Step Up: Leadership in Public Relations as told by Rick White

What’s the definition of a leader? Speaking on leadership at the Southeastern Regional Conference, Rick White, associate vice chancellor for communications and public affairs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, gave insight into “working definitions” of a leader. His 40 years of work experience in public relations have proven that he is an effective and trusted leader.


Mr. White described a “working definition” of leader by stating, “Leadership is helping a group of two or more to achieve their common goals.” While simple, this is not always easily accomplished. One of the most vital aspects to becoming an effective leader is maintaining a clear and timely channel of communication. Doing so allows for you to maintain constant communication about what you and your team need to accomplish.


To further the process, Mr. White stated that an effective leader needs to “practice everyday leadership every day.” He then referred to a quote from the “Miracle on the Hudson” pilot, Chelsey Sullenberger, by saying, “I make investments in the bank of experience every day. When I had to make a withdrawal, I was ready. Being an effective leader means having consistency in purpose and having the attitude to make the best contribution possible.”


Something else White touched on is the necessity of dedication. If you don’t take the time to become an effective leader, you won’t become an effective leader. Furthermore, you have to manage yourself to be able to manage others. If you don’t understand the necessity of dedication to others, you can’t begin working toward the main goal of the organization. Proving you can work with a team is a skill that is learned continuously. Understanding the dynamics within your team and then effectively working together can achieve greatness.


Here are five points Mr. White emphasized:


1. Handle the difficult conversations.

2. Be clear. Understand the final outcome.

3. Manage conflict.

4. Be inclusive.

5. Have strong communication skills.


No one can say it better than White himself: “Make contributions as leader, and opportunities of leadership will seek you out.”


-by Ethan Flynn, PRSSA President, Georgia Southern University

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