A few months ago, LinkedIn published its annual list of the most sought-after skills by recruiters, skills that are likely to help you grow.
(Because, as LinkedIn puts it: “If your skills are in demand, you’re in demand. No matter the obstacle, re-org, or change in strategy, these skills will help you achieve your career goals.” Thanks for the pep talk, LinkedIn).
Guess which skill came in second place!
You’re probably going to say communication, right?
More than asking myself why it seems like we’re not making progress on that front—here’s a theory—I want to do something different in this article.
I want to share three stories that happened in 1972, 1983, and 2008 respectively, which attempt to explain WHY investing in your communication abilities remains so relevant, both for you and for the top 10, 100, or 1000 of your organization.
All three stories have one common element: the decision to prepare—or not—to move others with a pitch.
The Speech That Saved Nike (1972)
The first story happened in 1972 and appears in Shoe Dog, the autobiography of one of Nike’s co-founders—co-written with J. R. Moehringer, who is also the ghostwriter of Prince Harry.
Nike started as Blue Ribbon in 1964, distributing Onitsuka sneakers in the United States. Eventually, Onitsuka revoked their exclusivity in 1972, forcing Blue Ribbon to produce their own sneakers.
When they received the news, the team was in shock. Phil Knight had prepared a speech, but before speaking, he decided to leave his notes behind and speak from the heart. This is what he said:
What I’m trying to say is, we have them right where we want them. This is the moment we’ve been waiting for, our moment. Our supplier Onitsuka has limited us for years (…). Who among you is not tired of that? It’s time to face the facts. Whether we win or lose, it will be on our terms, with our ideas, with our brands. We sold two million USD last year, all thanks to you (…). Let’s not see this as a crisis; let’s see it as our liberation. The day of our independence. Yes, it will be tough, I won’t lie to you. We’re definitely going to war, folks, but we know the terrain, and that’s why I feel in my heart that this is a war we can win. And if we win, when we win, I see great things for us on the other side of this victory. We’re still alive, folks, we’re still alive…
The message was so successful that a few months later, Blue Ribbon released their first original sneaker onto the market: the Nike Cortez. The rest is history (pardon the cliché).
The Breakfast That Altered Austin’s Future (1983)
In the early 1980s, Japan dominated the semiconductor manufacturing industry. The United States government felt threatened by Japan’s promise to create artificial intelligence, and in response, they established the Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation (MCC).
The MCC was an organization formed by twenty technology companies like G.E., Microsoft, Kodak, Honeywell, with the task of making the United States a global leader in this industry. The first decision to make? Where to establish it.
The most obvious choice was Silicon Valley. However, the project leader, Bobby Inman, decided to hold an open call: fifty-seven communities submitted offers.
The idea was for governors, mayors, university presidents, and business leaders to make their pitch to a committee consisting of Inman and six other executives. The committee evaluated the quality of life, traffic, the flow of specialized talent, and airports, among other elements.
Eventually, the committee narrowed down the participants to four: San Diego, Atlanta, Austin, and a region in North Carolina known as the Research Triangle.
Inman had a preference for San Diego, where he had lived for a while, so they scheduled a meeting with their applicant, George Deukmejian, the Governor of California, and agreed to meet on the campus of the University of California there.
But something unexpected happened: the Governor arrived twenty minutes late and merely read a document discussing the benefits of establishing the MCC in San Diego. Shortly afterward, he left, not leaving much time for discussion.
He shouldn’t have bothered showing up, Inman said.
On the other hand, the visit to Austin was quite different. The Chief of Staff of the Texas Governor welcomed them at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library with breakfast and a pitch focused on benefits for MCC employees and the required talent flow.
Inman made the decision right there, and the rest… is also history (Wow, Andrés, two clichés in one article).
The Response That Put Obama Ahead (2008)
The third story took place on September 25, 2008, during the presidential election. Around that time, the economic crisis stemming from the real estate bubble was at one of its worst moments.
In his autobiography, Obama—who apparently DIDN’T use a ghostwriter—recalls receiving a call from President Bush inviting him to an emergency meeting with Congressional leaders and both teams present (McCain’s and Obama’s).
President Bush opened the meeting by giving the floor to Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House Speaker. Nancy and Obama had agreed that if this happened, Obama would speak first, and this was the case. Of course, Obama had prepared for that moment.
Then, President Bush turned to McCain and said:
John, since I already gave Obama a chance to speak, it’s your turn.
After an awkward silence, McCain improvised for two or three minutes until he fell silent, embarrassed by his lack of preparation. Everyone fell silent.
There are moments in an election and in life where all possible paths except one suddenly close. This was one of those moments,” Obama concludes.
Now, Think of Yourself
Think about what that can mean for your job, your career, and your community. How far you’ll go and how much impact your work will have largely depends on your ability to inspire others.
The good news is that the fire you need to move others already exists within you. You’ve always known it, and others have told you.
The problem is that this ability needs development. Some people are naturally charismatic and born storytellers. For the rest of us, the path to inspiring leadership seems long, difficult, and confusing.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. The solution lies in understanding how the brain works during a successful communication process, acquiring new storytelling habits, and recognizing that persuasion requires persistence.
If you set your mind to it, you could start that journey today. And don’t stop there: bring your team along. A lot is at stake.