Last weekend Tony Snow, conservative broadcaster and former spokesman for President Bush, passed away of colon cancer. Over the weekend and this week, lots of people have and will weigh in on the great stories about Snow, what he meant to his team, etc.
For me, it’s a similar situation to Tim Russert. Regardless of political affiliation, when you see someone repeatedly on the news and understand they’re gifted and a gamer, you learn from how they handle things.
I doubt we’ll see the same level of heartfelt coverage for Snow as we did for Russert. Snow wasn’t as ubiquitous of a name in the media game and played from the conservative side rather than the middle, which means the other party will hold back a little bit on the compassion. Still, whether you are Democrat or Republican, Snow’s someone to model your professional approach by.
Here’s what I learned about dealing with people from Tony Snow, specifically from him making the decision to join the Bush Administration and deal with what had become a hostile situation in the White House Press Corps:
–You Have To Be Willing to Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is – Looking back at articles, he was critical of Bush for backing down to the Democratic leaders and not being more systematic about getting his message out. Bush reached out to him and asked him to help fix it. By all accounts, he walked into a cesspool of a situation and did well. Regardless of your affiliation, you have to respect a guy who is willing to get involved in what looked like a no-win situation. Who needed to have "successor to Scott McClellan" on their resume? Still, he took the job. Stand-up guy….
–Stay Classy San Diego – Snow was an upbeat guy who was hard not to like. Too many things play into this to list, but contrast him against the other talking heads within the broadcasting/political spectrum. He was likable because he took the high road in multiple situations where he could have been chippy. People sensed that, and cut him slack when they could have attacked him. That’s an edge any of us could use.
–You Can Defend Without Taking It Personally – You take the job as press secretary late in the Bush presidency, you know you are going to get hammered. By being classy and upbeat while defending the administration, Snow connected with the press corps to a much greater degree than Fleisher or McClellan. He never took the attacks personally, seemingly moving forward with the opinion, "that’s show business".
–You Can Say "I Don’t Know" and Build Trust and Respect – Imagine that – saying "I don’t know" when you don’t know, rather than going into buzzword land. That builds trust, respect and authenticity regardless of the positioning of those you are addressing. Just don’t say "I don’t know" to every question.
Rest in Peace Tony Snow. Thanks for being different enough to make people notice.
Kris Dunn is a Partner and CHRO at Kinetix, a national RPO firm for growth companies headquartered in Atlanta. He’s also the founder Fistful of Talent (founded in 2008) and The HR Capitalist (2007) – and has written over 70 feature columns at Workforce Management magazine. Prior to his investment at Kinetix, Kris served in HR leadership roles at DAXKO, Charter and Cingular. In his spare time, KD hits the road as a speaker and gives the world what it needs – pop culture references linked to Human Capital street smarts.