Billionaire Warren Buffett has been front and center in the news lately, writing an op-ed in The New York Times that suggests the government should tax him—and other wealthy people—at a higher rate, adding that as a percentage of income, he pays less in taxes than his secretary. Naysayers say that such a pronouncement is easy for an incredibly rich guy like Buffett. And he has been raked over the coals in the media for this stance. Yet this upfront take by the Berkshire Hathaway chairman got me thinking about how he—as a business leader—communicates so naturally and effortlessly to shareholders and the public at large.
So I called up Jim Lukaszewski, president of Minneapolis-based Lukaszewski Group, a crisis and leadership coaching agency, to get his take on Buffett, As luck would have it, Lukaszewski has been to some Berkshire annual meetings in Omaha, and is pretty impressed with Buffett’s accessibility and honesty during these events—which draw 30,000-40,000 people each year. “He’s very convincing, and very revered by everyone,” says Lukaszewski, who adds that he saw Buffett seven times and was able to briefly speak with him three times during one shareholder gathering.
So how does Buffett pull off this kind of Middle America folksy transparency that other leaders would give their eye teeth for? It’s not an act. “He’s a genuine person, and he has integrity,” says Lukaszewski, who adds that he doesn’t think Buffett has a lot of PR handlers giving him advice.
Despite what the public might think, there are executives like Buffett who are natural communicators, says Lukaszewski. They also have a sense of “doing the right thing.” Trouble is, leaders who do the right thing are almost expected to come forward and capitalize on their efforts. This can only lead to trouble, says Lukaszewski. That’s why he says integrity is today’s “hidden business asset.” Is there a way for communicators to capture and nurture integrity among their leadership? Lukaszewski will put forth some ideas on this in an upcoming issue of PR News.
–Scott Van Camp