I will go to the ends of the earth to find ways to improve communication and selling, so I was delighted to be invited to Israel in July to be briefed by the crème-de-la-crème of Israel’s intelligence community. Wall-to-wall briefings introduced me to 25 top strategists, military commanders and technology entrepreneurs. Why is Israeli intelligence gathering so widely envied and emulated? Its discipline, attention to detail and passion are breathtaking. These same traits that distinguish Israel’s national intelligence program are easy to spot in the country’s economy. It’s increasingly dominated by entrepreneurial, high-tech innovators in breakthrough industries like 3D printing.
Israel’s leading “serial entrepreneur” Yossi Vardi has built over 60 companies and sold a couple of them to the likes of Microsoft and AOL. He believes an appreciation for risk and opportunity fuels the drive to innovate. Israelis have learned to focus on innovation with a practical payback. Yossi told me: “In the U.S., risk means the chance you’ll lose your money. In Israel, risk means missiles will be buzzing around your head if you make a mistake.”
According to The Economist, Israeli military spending is the fifth highest per capita worldwide. However, as a percent of GDP, it’s dived from 17.7 percent in 1991 to 6 percent today. The priority battlefield concerns now downplay the traditional tanks-and-troops profile. Cyber-warfare has soared in importance, along with pre-emptive intelligence.
Israel may be swimming in advanced technology, but the sway of tradition is unmistakable. World-renowned activist Natan Sharansky invited me to Sabbath dinner with his family. Originally I planned to step through a bevy of questions I had entered on my iPad. Instead I had to work from memory. As custom has it, the only lights on a Sabbath dinner table flicker from the candles.
The high point of my visit was a rousing hour-long one-on-one with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In August1999, I first met with Netanyahu when I was honored by the AISH Hatorah organization, along with then U.S. Senator John Kerry and then U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich. After his first term as prime minister in May 1999, Netanyahu turned his attention to plans to retool Israel’s economy to its dazzling new look.
Before I began my meeting in the Prime Minister’s office, Ron Dermer, Israel’s new Ambassador to the United States, confided in me: “Harvey, this is the first time in my career I’ve had a boss who works harder than I do. He’s simply 24/7.” I suspected I would be talking with a leader as dedicated to successful meeting preparation as I am. Netanyahu did not disappoint.
Time and again, I’ve emphasized how much any leader today has to be a consummate salesperson. Netanyahu may be unmatched in his salesmanship flair among the many senior statesmen I’ve met. He used his time with me to step through his national agenda with ease and impact.
Netanyahu’s account of whittling down tax rates and making telephone costs competitive was exact. His economics were as precise as his passion for preserving Jewish history was intense. The seemingly endless supply of facts and ideas made their mark. None, though, resonated as much as the fact that I was experiencing a gifted communicator at his best.
What made the Prime Minister’s communication so forceful yet appealing? I captured my reactions immediately after the meeting. I listed signature points that summed up Netanyahu’s expert communications command.
The first could be considered primarily style:
- Firm handshake
- Penetrating eye contract
- Easy, laid-back humor
- Modulated speaking, ranging from a haunting whisper to a bellowing laugh
- Engaging smile
- The poise one associates with leaders at home with the challenges of their job
These highly appealing trimmings only worked because the meat-and-potatoes of Bibi’s comments were so solid. That’s where the second set of traits played such a powerful part:
- Authoritative command of content
- Focus in clearly making each of his points
- Passion that he was convinced his messages were important
- Conviction that his course was right
- Confidence that he and his team knew how to prevail
- Charisma in presenting his package so it registered on the emotions as much as the intellect
Guess what? You don’t need to clock time at the United Nations General Assembly to develop this sort of expertise. These are the same skills that are the stock-in-trade of communications training outfits like Toastmasters International and Dale Carnegie. Go investigate. Whether it’s widgets or world policy, salesmanship skills work wonders.
Mackay’s Moral: You don’t have to be a prime minister to be a prime mover.