Archive for July, 2017

There are many ways to express the founders’ “idea of America.” But its clear from reading the constitution that human rights are at the core. Also basic is a measure of compassion, a non-negotiable commitment to individual freedom and justice, and a shared belief that peaceful communities based on mutual respect are fundamental. It seems elementary that anyone elected to lead this great nation would be a champion of these underlying values.

A plutocrat is someone who thinks that the rich can rule society better than government. After all, most would agree that Bill and Melinda Gates can fix many public health and education problems more efficiently than government. The Clinton Foundation has addressed many international development problems that government finds too expensive, or not appropriate for taxpayer support. The Carter Foundation also has addressed may issues around the world that could benefit more from private wealth than public funds. Possibly even former Mayor Bloomberg of New York City demonstrated that he could separate governing in the public interest from directly enriching himself. So maybe it should not be surprising that Mr Trump convinced people who were being ignored by “Washington” that a rich man was in a better position than government to help them.

The plutocrat advantage argument might have been more convincing if that plutocrat also shared the founding father’s “idea of America.” But Mr. Trump’s consistent record of lying, bullying, forgetting promises, disruptive tweeting, mistreating staff, and enriching himself first, in no way adds up to a benevolent autocrat. “Making America Great Again” should mean doing a better job of advancing the founders’ core values as the way to provide leadership to the free world.

Make no mistake, our belief in capitalism derives from our belief in individual freedom. But the idea of America does not also condone self-serving greed or personal meanness. Nor does it condone using the public trust and treasure to continue enriching oneself. Getting rich in America should be celebrated, but only when it includes a bit of humility… along with feeling a strong need to pay back the very society that made personal success possible.

The question for American’s now is: Will enough people see the significant difference between Bill Gates and Donald Trump? And will we take the necessary steps to fix it?  None of this has anything to do with party politics. Rather it’s all about analyzing leadership communication and behavior, and the horrible psychic and social consequences of extreme personal greed.

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Last week I attended a week of lectures and discussions at Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York presented by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington. CSIS is a nonpartisan think tank that focuses almost exclusively on national security issues.

Major topics throughout the week included national security strategy, geopolitics, surprising changes in China, endless turmoil in the Middle East, the changing energy landscape, the future of cyber warfare, and much more.

At week’s end, the always engaged Chautauqua audience came away understanding that there are some very smart people in Washington, that many of them reside in think-tanks, that they are generating very detailed information about global trends every hour of every day, and that CSIS houses one of the best and most nonpartisan group of experts specializing in national security in the world.

But they also came away hearing that there are very few if any firm solutions when it comes to the big issues we are all concerned about: What to do about North Korea? Russian political interfering? Chinese uncertainty? Individual privacy? Globalization consequences? The impact of Trump’s constant rants? Poverty? Energy? Public Health? Global Warming?

In the final analysis, think tank research results in presenting informed action alternatives and expert opinions to government officials for their consideration. But when pressed, most experts admit that the world keeps changing, issues keep getting more complex, and there never is only one right way forward.

But it’s also important to mention here that there are lessons from communication and media research that provide some promise. While it is true that research shows communication always breaks down, that true success requires time and interaction, that media revolutions always change how society works, and that 24/7 digital news is resulting in information clutter and confusion, it can also be said that scoundrels will likely be revealed and defeated, and that with persistence, productive action steps can gradually emerge.

So keep your practical problem-solving hat on, make your expectations for leaders shaped by traditional American values known, and keep your fingers crossed!  Oh, and also make sure you have read the preceding two posts.

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Or, is the French presidential election really a precursor for what will soon happen in the US? Put still another way, will young voters and the vast silent majority be looking for a completely new choice outside both parties?

Captured by extreme conservatives, the Republican Party wasted seven years as the party of “no” and failed to prepare viable solutions for America’s complex problems… most especially healthcare. Their voter districts were hijacked by extremists and Congress became hopelessly polarized. As a result significant numbers of Americans simply are disgusted.

Democrats on the other hand want to focus on jobs but also have no real plan. And as in the presidential election, they now run the risk of focusing on the shortcomings of the current president and failing to articulate a viable vision and plan for the future of the country. They also have become a party of extremes and have no compelling emerging leader.

The winning presidential candidate’s “Make America Great Again” slogan may have sounded visionary to some but it has not been accompanied by a mechanism for solving serious domestic problems, and it has not produced a workable leadership role for America in the world. The result is a planet in disarray.

Also in disarray, the people of France rejected their political party mess and elected an outsider as president… one who is strategically smart, articulate, and visionary. Is America ready to do the same?

Could such a leader who is well-educated, internationally experienced, understands practical problem-solving, operates on a set of traditional American values, and has an imagination impressive enough to restore America as the leader of the free world emerge here?

I am betting that it can… because it must.

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The talk in Washington is about Russian internet hacking to influence the U.S. presidential election. But future concerns should also be about “bad guys” having the capacity for even more pervasive influences in a country’s economy, institutions and politics. From a citizen’s perspective, these activities can easily operate silently “below the radar,” and are likely in time to become extremely disruptive. The communication process implications here go far beyond computer hacking.

Senior Vice President for Europe, Eurasia and the Arctic at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Heather Conley, was a co-director and co-author of a study of Russian influence in Central and Eastern Europe.  The study was a project of both CSIS and the Center for the Study of Democracy (CSD). It is titled, The Kremlin Playbook, and the complete study can be downloaded at CSIS.org.

My take: “Bad guys” can influence political processes with much more comprehensive and sophisticated communication and other tactics than internet hacking. Combining insights from my reading of this new study with those from scanning periodic U.S. news media stories, here is my take on how this frightening process can work:

  1. “Bad guys” make various real estate investments in target countries of special interest, including the U.S.
  2. They also facilitate profitable investments and partnerships in their country for well-healed investors from their target countries.
  3. They then look for specific “mogul level” investors who are willing to consider bigger and more profitable opportunities.
  4. These bigger opportunities will soon involve ethically questionable situations that include “moments” of possible personal “entrapment,” some with later blackmail-potential.
  5. Now, with the help of entrapped investors, bad-guy-operatives begin to infiltrate political activities, with the ultimate goal of influencing election outcomes.
  6. Electronic hacking is an important part of this formula, but only one part.

Has Russia employed these tactics to influence the U.S. political system and voting processes? It certainly seems likely. And if so, will they do it again? Answering these questions with more facts is what the current special investigator’s challenge is all about. But here is the most important question of all: When we finally have all the facts about Russian involvement, will we have the courage to do what needs to be done?

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Studying the communication dimensions of leadership has been a strong interest of mine ever since I started years ago working for and consulting with institutional presidents and executives.  There are many lessons. Here are three of the most important:

Lesson One: Presidents set the tone, policy agenda and direction for their institutions or nations simply by what they chose to say… so much so that they even have a “contagious” emotional effect on the behavior others. It is both the opportunity and liability of being a president.

Lesson Two: Never, never bad-mouth your predecessor. Comfortable or not, a new president always stands on the shoulders of those who came before. There are too many influential people still around who supported the others, and not to understand this will almost always prove ruinous.

New presidents obviously need to learn from the mistakes of past presidents. But bad-mouthing them undermines leadership stature, exposes personal ego problems, reveals any lack of knowledge of the institution’s or nation’s history, and significantly diminishes attention on (or reinforces the lack of) a workable plan for the future.

Before I retired I worked closely with several institutional presidents, both at my institution and as a consultant. Each one had to deal with the mistakes of the past. With the benefit of hindsight, however, I learned that for the most part the institution had the right president with the right strengths at the right time. Each president made mistakes, no doubt. But it was far more effective for new presidents to honor past presidents’ contributions then to criticize their mistakes. In this way a new vision and plan could rest on a solid historical foundation while reaching out to everyone, no matter their past loyalties, background, or special interests.

Lesson Three: Don’t pick a fight with the news media. Expressing disappointment about poor coverage is certainly fine, even required. But expressing frustration by relentlessly attacking the media will eventually make any president look weak, think-skinned, dysfunctional, and eventually untrustworthy. Make no mistake. It’s a no-win situation.

What also happens is that the president’s entire staff becomes disorganized trying to respond to daily disjointed attacks and soon find it impossible to advance other far more important initiatives. Like it or not the agenda will always be set by what the  president says that day, and the media will reign in the end simply as a result of the administrative chaos and daily supply of crisis news. “Breaking news” increases readership, broadcast ratings, and media profits. It’s as simple as that.

As we all know the U.S. president did not win the popular election. From a purely communication perspective he won the presidency because of two unlikely situations: He found a large number of legitimately unhappy voters. And his opponent failed to manage an email server crisis, fell into the trap of almost exclusively attacking him, and therefore failed to articulate a plan and vision for the future of her country.

My long experience in communication and media teaches that these hard lessons apply to all top leaders of anything, everywhere. And the lessons most certainly apply right now to everyone currently involved in party politics and government.

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