Assemble the right people: On June 27, I recently completed the first ever swim down the Green River through Canyonlands for 40 miles where I needed to have a coach, boat pilots who understood the currents, nutrition, support paddlers, mental conditioning, sponsors. Communication with the support team is critical to get them all working in tandem to get me down the river safely. The same is true in organizations.
As part of my series about the “How To Delegate Effectively and Be Completely Satisfied With the Results”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Matthew Moseley.
Matthew Moseley is a communication strategist, author, speaker and world record adventure swimmer. He is the author of “Ignition: Superior Communication Strategies for Creating Stronger Connections” by Routledge/Taylor&Francis publishing, 2021. He has spent his career at the intersection of public policy, business and government and has managed many public affairs projects and campaigns for organizations and companies. He is the principal and CEO of the Ignition Strategy Group, which specializes in high-stakes communications and issue management for the biggest companies to the smallest organizations. He is the author of Dear Dr. Thompson: Felony Murder, Hunter S. Thompson and the Last Gonzo Campaign.
He has completed four first-ever record adventure swims and is the subject of the documentary, Dancing in the Water about his 25 mile swim across Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans. He is the co-chair of the Colorado River Basin Council for American Rivers and is member of the Advisory Board of the Center for Leadership at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He lives in Boulder, Colorado, with his wife, Kristin, and their children, Charles and Amelia.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
After working at the famed New Orleans restaurant, Commander’s Palace, where Emeril Lagasse was the chef, I moved from Louisiana to Telluride Colorado. It was a pivtal career move and I started working as a research assistant for futurist John Naisbitt, author of the best-selling book Megatrends. Afterward I moved to Boulder and started cutting my teeth on campaigns and public policy battles. It was also a time when I discovered open water distance swimming, which has become a touchstone of my life.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I have faced many challenges over my career. I’ve lost big campaigns. People didn’t care when I thought they did. The money didn’t materialize. Colleagues lied. I’ve walked off the gang plank solo. I’ve been glazed, chunked and deep fried. While there was never a thought of “giving up” I had to focus on why I love communications, why it is important, and that I have something to offer people and organizations. When the going gets tough, think about where you can add value and contribute to something greater than yourself. As my friend Hunter S. Thompson used to say, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
When I was working for Rock the Vote in the 1990s, for a tv commercial we draped Madonna naked in the American flag while she implored the youth of American to Get out and vote. You’ve got to rock the vote America. The media soon discovered that she wasn’t actually registered to vote herself. It was a crisis moment for the organization. Lessons: Be careful how you use celebrity to promote a cause. It can backfire. Check your facts and do the homework. And never make an ad with someone naked in the American flag.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
At the Ignition Strategy Group, we believe in the power of story. We practice a unique niche of public affairs, which is the alchemy of turning resources into power. The last chapter of my book Ignition is about when I was hired by Johnny Depp to be the family spokesperson and communications director for the funeral and ash blast of Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. It was an exercise in how you frame the legacy of a great writer…. You blow his ashes out of a 157-foot tall gonzo fist cannon.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Find a healthy sport or a passion outside of your profession, but complimentary to your work. For me it is swimming. Even if you love your work, it’s important to find your balance. Because if you have other passions and interests, you can bring more vitality to your work, your friends and family. I’m writing this on the way to do the first ever swim down the Green River through Canyonlands for 40 miles. About 16–17 hours of non stop swimming. I’m teaming up with American Rivers to bring awareness to Western water issues and the effects of severe drought. It’s a way to use my passion for swimming for a greater good.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Ironically is was Hunter S. Thompson. He hired me based on a simple memo about freeing a young woman from prison who was serving a life sentence for murder. It culminated in the book “Dear Dr. Thompson: Felony Murder, Hunter S. Thompson and the Last Gonzo Campaign.” Our relationship set a trajectory for my career. It wasn’t just working with him, it was all the people I met through him. Top attorneys like Gerald Goldstein and Hal Haddon, presidential historian Douglas Brinkley and public affairs expert Curtis Robinson. My favorite was the legendary jazz musician David Amram. He played on the support boat while I swam 25 miles across Lake Pontchartrain and composed music for 15 hours straight at 84 years old. I love how these relationships and connections ripple through our lives. My book “Ignition” provides strategies for making stronger connections and why they are important in successful endeavors.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Delegating effectively is a challenge for many leaders. Let’s put first things first. Can you help articulate to our readers a few reasons why delegating is such an important skill for a leader or a business owner to develop?
In any kind of effort or campaign, whether for products or policy, there are only three resources at your disposal: Time, Money an People. Within that framework it is impossible to do everything yourself. One of the qualities of a good leader is how they are the director of a grand theater performance where everyone is working from the same script. Everyone moving towards the same goal and doing their part to make it happen. This is ultimately how the best outcomes are produced. Not by a go-it-alone approach.
Can you help articulate a few of the reasons why delegating is such a challenge for so many people?
Trust is a big factor. If we don’t trust a colleague or our team, it’s hard to delegate to them, even if they are capable. Time is another factor. It takes time to delegate and help people understand what you want. Lastly, many leaders believe they already have the skills to create whatever it is they are delegating — and do it better.
In your opinion, what pivots need to be made, either in perspective or in work habits, to help alleviate some of the challenges you mentioned?
Communication and clear direction are critically important. But many times communication happens as an afterthought. Or we don’t plan it out asking three simple questions: What are we saying? Who are we saying it to? How are we saying it? If people don’t know what it is they are supposed to be doing, it’s harder for them to be successful. Lack of communication creates an atmosphere that makes it hard to delegate.
Can you please share your “Five Things You Need To Know To Delegate Effectively and Be Completely Satisfied With the Results?” Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Assemble the right people: On June 27, I recently completed the first ever swim down the Green River through Canyonlands for 40 miles where I needed to have a coach, boat pilots who understood the currents, nutrition, support paddlers, mental conditioning, sponsors. Communication with the support team is critical to get them all working in tandem to get me down the river safely. The same is true in organizations.
2. Trust your team: On a ballot measure to protect the Colorado River and western water with many different roles in different places, we had to trust that everyone was working toward our final objective, even though we couldn’t be in constant contact.
3. Provide clear communication: Brands who thrived over the last year were those who were proactive and used a tumultuous time to demonstrate empathy to their customers and stakeholders. This is how to build trust.
4. Check in: I find a quick, “How’s that research memo coming along? Have any questions or need any help?” goes a long way. I don’t like to get something back that’s wrong when they could have asked a few simple questions.
5. Acknowledge and Celebrate: I once had a boss who was very good about telling clients, “Matt created this really terrific memo here…” It showed he valued our partnership and that they knew I had done the work. It was a way to build trust and acknowledge our success. Acknowledgement is a great lubricant of delegation.
One of the obstacles to proper delegating is the oft quoted cliché “If you want something done right do it yourself.” Is this saying true? Is it false? Is there a way to reconcile it with the importance of delegating?
Absolutely false. To think you are the only one capable of a task is both arrogant and foolish. However, know where you can you bring certain elements of your wisdom and experience to add value to a situation. The key skill here is situational awareness. To know when to let your team run with it and when to jump in. A key question we have to ask in delegating, in meetings… and in life, is: How do you support someone you don’t agree with? You make it better! The art of improvisation teaches us that we shouldn’t tear down people’s ideas, we should build upon them and improve it.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would start a movement about water, the most critical issue of our time. People have lost the connection to their water. What it means to their lives and this planet. It is our most precious resource. Throughout history water has been considered a vessel to the divine. I believe we could create a powerful movement around water. And people I work with, such as American Rivers, already are.
How can our readers further follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!