Leadership through repetition

Drew Faust of Harvard was featured in Fast Company a while ago. She reflected, among other things, on how she views leadership:

Fast Company: Overall, what have you been most surprised to learn in your first seven years running Harvard?

Drew Faust: Well, one thing I’ve come to understand is how important listening is to leadership. When you’re listening, you’re getting information. You’re being given the gift of understanding where someone is, and leadership is about moving people from where they are to where you hope they’ll go.

The other things—and this seems in some ways at odds with what I just said—is that I am struck by how challenging it is to communicate messages in a large organization. You have to say them again and again and again. As a history scholar, if I publish something, I don’t ever say it again. If I gave a speech that said the same things as one of my published articles, everyone would shake their heads and say, “Well, she’s done with. She doesn’t have anything new to say.” But a leader needs to have a message that can be identified, understood, and incorporated by the constituency you’re trying to lead. So you just have to keep saying the same things over and over again.

I can’t say whether this was always as necessary, but the idea that leadership involves repetition of a comprehensive vision resonates. Our media and information sources are more ephemeral. Hearing the same thing over and over and over from a single personality or institution seems like it creates the sort of psychological “echo” necessary to prove Faust’s point about being identified, understood, and embraced.