Every brand has a unique history, and telling that story can help create a connection with its workforce. By examining the challenges, successes, and key moments that shaped the brand, leaders can create their own personal brand narrative that sets them and their company’s brand apart from the competition.

We are all competing in an attention economy. From pings and dings to blinks and rings, companies and content constantly compete for our limited time and attention. How do great leaders turn down the noise and tune in to the messages that matter most? What does it take to be heard above the noise? And how do we create communication that cultivates community and connectedness in a distributed, distracted world? To address these questions, we started an interview series called “Can You Hear Me Now?: Top Five Strategies Leaders Use to Diminish Distractions & Win in the Attention Economy.” As a part of this interview series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Jack Goodson.

Jack Goodson is a Creative Communications Consultant, Creative Director, Conceptual Copywriter, and the founder of The Goodson Group, which helps executives, leaders, brands, and organisations craft compelling stories that connect. Jack has over 11 years of experience in storytelling, branding, entertainment, and digital media. His current focus is helping leaders communicate meaningfully and with impact using storytelling, philosophy, and creative campaigns.

Thank you for making time to visit with us. Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is one of your most memorable moments, and what made it memorable?

Thank you for having me. This question often receives copy-and-paste answers about founding my company or a challenge I’ve overcome. I will give you something different, more authentic, more personal.

Why? As I expect my clients to open up to me about their own stories, lives, and experiences, both good, bad, and ugly. So, they deserve the same from me.

One of my most memorable moments is less a moment and closer to two years of my life. I was in a mental health hospital, suffering from severe depression, anxiety, addiction, and PTSD. Which is quite the résumé.

During that time, I was dulled and a shell, the concoction of 5 or 6 medications I was on making me non-human. But, in that time, I dedicated myself to studying literature, philosophy, and film. From that detached, overly-medicated perspective, one thing became clear: everything is a story.

From the stories we tell others about our lives and the stories we tell ourselves about our beliefs to the stories the world tells us about who we are and what the world is — or “must be” — like, our lives are a collection of mini-narratives.

No, that realisation didn’t cure me. I’m not cured. But with it, my perspective on everything drastically altered. To half-quote Schopenhauer, “Every person takes the limits of their own field of vision for the limits of the world.”

What is the most unexpected twist in your career story, and what did you discover from your detour?

Aside from my years in a mental health hospital, my most unexpected detour was moving into content creation to support my work as a Creative Communications Consultant.

Despite helping others learn to communicate through unique perspectives and narratives, I never felt that publicly sharing my own narrative, thoughts, and insights was something I felt comfortable doing.

Now that I do so, I have discovered it has benefited me, my strategic work, and my clients in unimaginable ways.

According to a recent Harvard Business School study, the most essential communication skill for leaders is the ability to adapt their communication style. How do you adapt your communication style?

Humans are built to adapt. Yet, the world leads us to believe that we must be inhumanly consistent in order not just to be successful but to live. We design routines to fit the routines already embedded in the narrative of society at large. And when someone sees we don’t follow our usual behaviours — we’re suddenly told something must be wrong with us, that we’re acting “out-of-character” or “unlike” ourselves.

How we communicate is tied to this. How we communicate reflects who we are and what we value. Change how you communicate, and you change who you are — at least, who people think you are.

So, I adapt my communication style all the time. I’ll walk, talk, and act in a certain way to one person, then in a completely different way to another. That doesn’t make me inauthentic or unfaithful to who I am. It makes me oh-so-human.

Use social media channels as a metaphor. Each platform requires a different mode of communication, and the rules and etiquette of that platform shape what we say and how we say it, even in the smallest of ways. Yet, it’s still us behind those different voices.

Clarity is critical as well. What lessons have you learned about how to communicate with clarity in our distributed world of work?

We’re told that clarity is essential for effective communication, especially in our distributed world of work, where we rely on technology to connect with others. And it’s mostly true.

However, clarity is relative. It depends on the audience, the context, and the narrative framework available, which we often overlook. We see people communicate clearly to one audience and not another. An academic conference session on the concept of infinity will clearly communicate through jargon and academic language to an audience of physicists. In contrast, Netflix’s A Trip to Infinity documentary explains the same information entirely differently.

In our distributed world, I see leaders, brands, and organisations talking — but never tailoring. We’ve become obsessed with the story brand developers tell us of ‘consistency,’ of matching tone of voice down to the word, of ensuring even our logos are bursting with meaning. We’re at a time of unprecedented technological innovation and change, and communication will suffer if we only communicate with one voice.

We must accept, similar to Schwartz’s Internal Family Systems Model, that there are multiple voices, stories, and subpersonalities within us that are equally important and equally valid. Operating and navigating in the business world doesn’t change that.

We often discover what works by experiencing what doesn’t. Tell us about a time when your communication didn’t lead to the desired results and what you learned from the experience.

Let’s get personal again. We’re all shaped by our experiences, so sticking to examples from business-related contexts alone drives a false impression of where authentic stories and personal narratives can be found. Leaders are human and crafted by their lives outside boardrooms and TED talks.

So for me, one of the greatest things I learned about communication occurred as a teenager. I was waiting for my date to arrive, but they were running late. Someway and somehow, in my infinite wisdom, I managed to craft a joke response to their message that compared them to a genocidal dictator. Smooth.

They showed up. It was awkward. They left early.

The worst part? In that moment, I didn’t know what I had done wrong. Only when I asked a friend what they thought happened that it became obvious. Painfully obvious.

I was stuck in my own perspective, my own narrative framework of what was socially acceptable. I learned from that experience that when you use humour as a form of communication, you must be careful.

Humour is both dangerous and dangerously powerful. And humour is a prime example of how our communication style and voice change depending on who we are speaking to and where. You don’t make the same jokes to your best friend as you do to your parents — it’s instinctive.

To summarise this lesson in the elegant words of Eminem:

I’m like a head trip to listen to, ’cause I’m only givin’ you

Things you joke about with your friends inside your livin’ room.”

What advice would you offer to other leaders who are struggling to have their messages heard and actioned?

Great question. There are two parts to unpack there.

First, if leaders struggle to have their messages heard, they’re either communicating in the wrong place, to the wrong people, or, to put it bluntly, don’t have anything worth listening to. These three points are interlinked and are best addressed similarly.

That’s because unoriginality is rife in leadership communication. Leaders see internal communications as a platform to share organisational updates and news and often despise dedicating their time to it.

And when it comes to external communications, leaders often default to the same tired and cliché regurgitations of information and content that their agencies feed them.

That’s not their fault. Life is busy. But to truly craft messages that people want to hear, leaders must embark on self-development beyond standard leadership training. They must embrace what interests them outside of work and dedicate time to not just reading, learning, and digesting information that may appear unrelated to their day-to-day roles but to weaving those unique perspectives into their communications.

People want to hear people, not syndicated platitudes with a name attached. In other words: embrace authenticity. Trust isn’t just a buzzword. Trust comes in many forms — but authentic messaging and original ideas are the quickest way to gain it.

Second, if leaders struggle to have their messages actioned, this typically results from speaking outside of the narrative framework and headspace their audience lives within.

Let me give an example. If you call a meeting to convince your executive team to pivot the company’s diversity and inclusion policies by enthusiastically talking about your current reading of Judith Butler’s theory of Gender Performativity, it will likely be unsuccessful. The executive team is in a narrative framework and context that sees “business as business.” Trying to convince a tiger to eat tofu by listing the health benefits will end in tears.

But, meeting with your executive team one-on-one, in a personal context, sharing your thoughts, your ideas, your vision, and asking their thoughts, their ideas, and their vision, and synthesising them? Or, adapting the theory of Gender Performativity into corporate terms of benefits, KPIs, etc.? Far more successful.

Leading a distributed team requires a different communication cadence and style from leading a team in person. What are five strategies any leader can deploy to improve communication and clarity when leading a distributed workforce? Please share a story or example for each of you can.

The shift to distributed workforces has shifted the internal narrative many employees now have about the nature of work. Work must have meaning, purpose, and passion. Which has pivoted the emphasis from leaders-drive-revenue to leaders-drive-inspiration. Whilst inspiration still leads to revenue, distributed work has made the need for a sense of unity beyond a shared office space all the more poignant. Especially when there is so much competition for attention outside of this space.

Five strategies I recommend leaders harness to embrace this narrative pivot are:

1. Be oh-so-human.

One of the essential things leaders must do when leading a distributed team is be human. This means showing their team members empathy, compassion, humour, and personality. Express yourself, your thoughts, your opinions. Be someone, not something. By doing this, leaders can create a connection with their team members that goes beyond work and builds trust and loyalty.

For example, during our work, I expect leaders to open up about their lives in ways they may typically avoid. To do this, I create a safe space of open, communal discussion. No judgments. Pure unconditional positive regard for their experiences and viewpoints. Building this space involves me showing my humanity, too. I share stories about my life as a stepfather, the ups and downs of my past, and my passion for storytelling, philosophy, films, and TV. Why hide the humanity?

2. Align your story with your brand’s origin story.

Every brand has a unique history, and telling that story can help create a connection with its workforce. By examining the challenges, successes, and key moments that shaped the brand, leaders can create their own personal brand narrative that sets them and their company’s brand apart from the competition.

I believe deep diving into a leader’s unique interests works best to extract the underlying mythological and psychological stories at their heart. We then adapt this outwardly to act as their own personal North Star that comes into alignment with the company’s own constellation.

This is particularly important for founders and CEOs who built the company from the ground up. They started with a vision, built their company upon it, but have yet to navigate their personal brand to align with their company’s brand. I’ve seen this repeatedly happen, especially with the younger generation of leaders and leaders who have experienced terrible things growing up. Those experiences often become a kind of limiting personal mythology, where they feel their story, their opinions, and their values are not worth sharing with the world.

3. Get creative with your communications.

Now, I don’t mean digging out your watercolours, painting an abstract picture, and then getting your team to guess what the image is trying to say about the company’s financial projections.

What I do mean is finding new and innovative ways to communicate, collaborate, and engage to spark interest, excitement, and inspiration in their team members.

Here’s an odd example. Take Jeff Jackson, the U.S. congressman for North Carolina. As a leader in a distributed world, his ‘team’ (i.e., the American public) has been able to see and hear the congressman through the medium of video, in particular, TikTok. In his recent video about the Silicon Valley Bank crisis, he is sitting at home, wearing a t-shirt and a hoodie, and looking directly at the camera. He is communicating with his ‘team’ in an entirely different way from what most people in the same position would. That creative way of communicating speaks in a language and format people understand, which is why he’s garnered almost fourteen million views within sixteen hours of posting.

4. Stand for something. Otherwise, you’ll fall for anything.

Yes, even clichés have a place in finding new ways to communicate. Why? As old truths die hard, to use yet another.

And the truth here is that a leader’s team needs to know what they stand for. As humans, we rally behind ideas and causes. We tend to be attracted to leaders with a mission, a purpose, and a message. Now more than ever in the world of remote working, the shift of emphasis towards ‘leaders-drive-inspiration’ has become the battleground for attracting and retaining talent. If your team can’t see what you’re about, how can they possibly get behind you? There’s nothing to get behind. So find your rallying cry and make it known.

5. Kill your darlings. Or, at least, raise them differently.

This advice is usually reserved for writers who grow too attached to certain turns of phrase. They fall in love with their own words, even if their writing as a whole would be better if they were more ruthless in their cutting and reshaping.

The same advice applies to leaders. If you’re too attached to your ideas, it indicates you’re too attached to how you see the world. You can’t communicate, and you can’t effectively lead if every time you present your ideas, they sound like the same-old-same-old radio station jingle. Teams catch on fast to the individualistic nature of a leader’s thinking. And it’s demoralising to think that the person who pays your paycheque has only their personal interests on their radar.

To combat this, leaders must be ruthless in editing themselves and their ideas. Don’t stick to your own status quo for the sake of it. Don’t develop a personal boilerplate that you recite as if in an exam.

Develop an understanding of what you want to say, then naturally embody that understanding. Cut the carbon copy phrases. As counter-intuitive as it sounds: Don’t let your words do the talking.

What are the three most effective strategies to diminish distractions when there is so much competing for attention?

Staying memorable is the hardest part of being a leader or a brand, especially in today’s attention economy. However, I believe storytelling and narrative are essential components of combating this and harnessing effective communication to stay in people’s minds. And there are three key strategies we can adopt from this.

1. Don’t sell benefits; tell stories.

Here’s a question for you: what’s almost as bad as simply stating facts, figures, and technical specifications when communicating?

The answer is: simply emphasising the benefits you bring as a leader or the ones your brand, product, or service provides. It’s better than cold, hard research facts, but they are ‘facts’ nonetheless.

They need context. They need to be wrapped in a story. Stories and narratives are how we make meaning of our lives, and they have the power to connect us to one another.

Think of it this way: give a person a solution to a problem, and they will be grateful. Then, they’ll drop you from their mind faster than you can send them a follow-up email. But, if you tell them a story that describes the solution in a way that makes sense, is relevant, eye-catching, emotionally compelling, or even downright bizarre — they will remember you. Just check out Fizz — bizarre but beautifully memorable.

2. Use metaphors and analogies.

Metaphors and analogies are stories within stories. They suggest a way of interpreting the world from perspectives, unlike our typical ways of seeing.

Finding metaphors and analogies that connect is difficult. But if you can open your team’s or audience’s eyes to a new way of seeing, you release them into a new way of being in the world.

That said, you have to use this power wisely and ethically. Cults are formed in this exact same way, as people band around a leader who makes them feel that they are part of something larger and different than themselves. Something that other people do not see.

3. Be visual.

The reason that movies, television, and all social media platforms are so popular is because they are visual. It’s a simple truth but one that is easy to overlook. Visuals are a powerful way to engage the audience and reinforce key points. Leaders should use images, infographics, or videos to illustrate their message and make it more memorable.

So neglecting visuals in your communications is the biggest weakness most leaders face. You only have to consider the following comparisons of the power of:

  • A speech vs. a presentation
  • A pitch vs. a pitch deck
  • An email vs. a video update

The list goes on.

And try not to outsource the visual process. There are so many tools that let you communicate in the exact way you want — from Midjourney to Canva to Gamma — the world of visuals is an oyster begging to be eaten.

What is one skill you would advise every leader to invest in to become a better communicator?

To me, that’s the CCC skill. That is: Consciously Consume Content.

You are the sum of everything you experience. And that buck doesn’t stop once you’ve stopped playing with your childhood toys. Each piece of content you receive is a message to you and your unconscious. If you consume without choosing what you consume, without realising it, you will wake up one morning with perspectives and viewpoints that you never had before.

Tailor and tweak the noise around you to be something you choose to tune into, not something you have to tune out. As part of my work, I work closely with leaders to help them refine their content consumption habits. Together, we design a flexible rehabilitation system of what to read, what to listen to, what to watch. And then, through our sessions, we work on how to apply it, forming connections and crafting unique ways of communicating through the chaotic collision of these different sources. It’s not a perfect science, but it is an art: the art of curation.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire 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 love this question. However, the issue with this Utilitarian approach is that sometimes the movements that would bring the greatest good to the greatest amount of people are not favourable in the short term. That’s why gradual, iterative reform is so complex and why revolutions and the paradigm shifts they bring are often the only way to move us forward.

That said, if I could inspire people to see the world as a set of stories, built into an overarching narrative constantly being written, I believe we’d regain a sense of autonomy in the information age. We could become more self-sufficient, and we could view ‘rules,’ ideas, frameworks, concepts, approaches, and even medical treatment and diagnoses as metaphors that can be combined in ways that suit us as highly distinct individuals.

The world is already made of stories. Why not learn to combine them in ways that help you align with what you feel at your core?

How can our readers stay connected with you?

I’m open to chatting with anyone and everyone, so please feel free to reach out. The best place is via my LinkedIn here.

Alternatively, contact me over on my website, jbgoodson.com.

(Or, if you’re feeling extra intrigued, sign up to my newsletter, The Ramble).

Thank you for these great insights! We wish you continued success.