June 24, 2013 – I’m not the first and undoubtedly won’t be the last person to admire Calgary’s Mayor Naheed Nenshi for the ways he’s communicated during the unprecedented flooding that has struck the city. Granted, he was already known for being a smart, cool, articulate, and compelling communicator before last week, but the way he’s spoken publicly since then reinforces that view and expands upon it.
Take a look at the way he spoke during an interview with CBC-TV’s Ian Hanomansing, who admittedly gave him a softball first question (“What’s your main message today?”). The Mayor said the first thing he wanted to say was “hug a public servant” because they are the ones working like titans to get Calgarians safe and services restored. That includes, he said, the police, firefighters, and even “the guys who pump water” at the water treatment plants. Using phrases like “that’s a big deal”, Nenshi speaks the language of everyone yet also communicates serious information in a responsible way. It’s hard not to like the guy.
Or take the way he reacted when asked at a news conference about people out seeking thrills on the flood-swollen river that runs through Calgary. It wasn’t a bureaucratic or heavy-handed authoritarian language he used; basically, he said, you’re all idiots if you do that and you could end up diverting precious time and resources from other people who need it more. But he said it all in an amusing, and measured, yet forceful, way that left no doubt about what should be done.
What’s more, he seems to be a natural communicator who also uses technology adroitly. He’s on Facebook and Twitter, like many politicians, but unlike many of them, he actually knows how to use the technology and speaks comfortably about it. During one television interview on the flooding, he said there was a social media campaign being started for him to get more sleep since he’d been up for 39 straight hours or so. “I heard I’m trending on Twitter,” he said with a smile, using the vocabulary of the informed in a matter-of-fact way that suggests he’s very comfortable with the medium.
Others have commented on Nenshi’s superior communication skills, brought to the forefront ever since he was elected Mayor of Calgary in October, 2010. He honed those skills previously as a McKinsey Consultant and head of his own consulting firm. He regularly ranks as one of Canada’s most popular politicians, and his data-driven, evidence-based decision-making is helping to make Calgary into one of the country’s (the continent’s??) most dynamic urban areas. But for students of communications skills, Nenshi has to be among the best when it comes to political leaders. Those skills of saying the right thing in the right way at the right time may well come in handy as his political career advances.