“Have you realized,” a friend pointed out to me, “that yours may be the first novel in the history of fiction to have a PR person as a hero?”
Well … no, actually. After all, I’m a public relations guy by day—and, too often, by night, weekend and holiday—so one shouldn’t expect me to assail my profession, even by parable. True, Tristan West, one of the key characters in my novel Radiance, isn’t entirely likable. He’s angry, hard-drinking, self-centered and resentful, a real curmudgeon. But those are behaviors borne from his experiences, not traits of his career.
So I started thinking: Why shouldn’t a PR guy be the hero of a novel? What is it about the term “public relations” that brings the pot of social ire to a boil? And what can leaders learn from that?
What I eventually realized was this: It’s all about the truth. What keeps Tristan from being totally contemptible is his true character. At bottom, he really is a man of integrity; he cares about what is right and true. That fact overwhelms his cynicism and expunges his selfishness. He rises above his darker tendencies. Truth is what makes him a leader.
In the real world, sadly, some organizations use PR as a smokescreen. They eschew honest dialogue in favor of selective truthtelling and blurry presentations. In short, they embrace “spin,” a word that every PR professional and every leader should strike from their vocabulary. There’s another word for spin; it’s called lying.
But real public relations, like real leadership, is dedicated to the truth. Both desire to understand their stakeholders through honest dialogue and relationship-building. Both are willing to learn and to change. Both are focused on mutual respect and a common vision. Both know that deception never works, at least not for long, and that truth is the only mortar that binds the bricks of trust, commitment and shared success.
We live in a disturbing era of Wikileakage, where mistrust is rampant, rumors overflow and conspiracies—real or imagined—lurk behind every closed door. Perhaps never before have we been in such need of genuine leaders—those committed to integrity, to compassion, to what is right and true.
Truth isn’t always the easy path, as Tristan discovers at the risk of his life. But it’s always the right path to take—and the only one true leaders follow.