Archive for April, 2018

Helping leaders with their communication taught me that long-term success requires strong values, earned credibility, genuine substance, and reasonably polished language skills. There are countless examples of leaders of industry, institutions, and nations who eventually failed because they focused primarily on exercising power and building personal wealth.

When it comes to nations, the general public might react indifferently to autocrats for a while. But indifference inevitably turns to fear of social uncertainty, and eventually to anger and rebellion.

With universities, morale and academic progress will plummet, students will demonstrate, and faculties will officially vote no-confidence.

With nonprofits, NGO’s, and associations, professional services will nose-dive… especially when funds raised to advance the cause are diverted to enrich their leaders.

The bottom line is that sustainable leadership must always stem from trustworthy intentions and greater good driven goals. I know this is obvious to many. But today, it clearly isn’t obvious to everyone. And so it’s up to those of us who understand to beat this drum: Human values, consistent honesty, and solid substance, all matter.

By solid substance I don’t mean filling speeches with endless boring facts. Rather, I mean that effective leaders must have the ability to give solid evidence of subject-matter knowledge every time they open their mouth. They must study trends and news events every day to be prepared to handle sudden crises and complicated issues.

On the contrary, honesty and greater good goals are not character features of control-driven, “me-first” leaders. Instead they are preoccupied with a lust for power, ego satisfaction, and personal wealth. They have a predisposition for bragging, bullying, lying, humiliating, abusing, and openly admiring other autocrats and dictators. And in an effort to secure themselves, they will dismantle the very institutions and programs that are essential to social stability. And what’s more, they will appoint oligarchs, loyal cronies, and family members to important positions, and follow that by eliminating those with the courage to speak truth to them.

In the final analysis, people who support autocrats because they see possible benefits for themselves do so at their own peril. The simple truth from history is this: Control-driven ,”me first” leadership will always fail in the end.


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I was once told by a colleague that my problem was that I thought every problem was a communication problem. As I thought about it I found myself explaining how a significant number of problems are indeed communication problems, or at least have significant communication dimensions. So here are some thoughts that Mr. Comey might do well to keep in mind…

Recent media revolutions have changed how communication works:

  1. Audiences today receive most of their information through many different digital devices, and choose the ones that appeal to them most.
  2. But this same technology creates a vast amount of information clutter, and results in confusion about facts and truth.
  3. In fact, this technology also creates a surprisingly new “media ecosystem,” one that allows repeated lies to eventually sound true, debating to polarize issues to the extreme, crude language to become commonplace, and celebrities to appear more knowledgeable than they are.
  4. And this technology also created countless new news sources to choose from, many based on opinion. Some sources became extreme, requiring audiences to become their own editors. Also, many people choose only the sources that feed their biases.

Communicators therefore have new realities, and new rules, to consider:

  1. Communication always breaks down. Most people can only remember about 50% of what they hear or read, and communicators can’t control which 50%. People hear selectively, and only what they want to hear.
  2. More information isn’t always better. Too much adds more clutter to an already information cluttered and confused environment.
  3. To compensate for this the communicator must begin with a simple framework. For example, first tell them what you know about them. In other words, empathize. Then give them only 4 or 5 major points selected to meet needs you know they have, with examples for each. Finally, summarize very succinctly.
  4. You should use social media to talk to your most important audiences directly, over the heads of the news media and others. This will help cut through the clutter. But you must use the devices and platforms you know they prefer, and each audience will be using different ones. And know that younger audiences will be changing their preferred platforms often.
  5. You must deal with the news media realistically. They will not tell your story your way. But you must still be prepared to respond when you become news. News media visibility establishes you as important, but news audiences will also only hear what they want to hear.
  6. The only way to change minds is to raise questions that cause audiences to become a little uncertain. Conversion is a lengthy process, but eventually you might find opportunities in audience uncertainty to suggest new positions. But remember, a Democrat’s argument will only make a Republican a better Republican.
  7. The more interactive your social media choices the more successful you can be in the long run. Successful communication is a process, not a one time sender to receiver event.

Mr Comey, I know there is a lot here to digest. But I think you will do well to incorporate what you can… especially insights about the new media world, how communication works, and especially what not to say. For example, I think you made a mistake referencing Mr. Trump’s hands, orange skin, and tanning lines. It should have been obvious that this is what adversaries would respond to as a cheap shot, and the news media would see as great headline material. You need now to go forward telling your story in a more straightforward manner, expecting people to hear only what they want, and using the right social media platforms to stay in interactive touch with your primary audiences, asking them to help tell your story. Word of mouth still works, but now it’s called buzz!

Good luck. The new media world is a complex and bewildering one. Believe me, I know. I learn the hard way too.

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The nation’s teachers have finally had enough! Current strikes in several states are gaining political momentum. Countless White Houses have tried to reform and improve public schools from Washington, and all have failed. Teachers know why. Really low salaries today encourage talented young students to choose other careers. Those already in the profession are paid too little to make ends meet. And in too many cases even those who make the sacrifice because they love students are not given the materials and system support necessary to do the job professionally.

Every experienced teacher and administrator knows that good and bad influences in the home, neighborhood, and from peers determine the preliminary steps that must be taken before academic success is possible. Therefore, in addition to possessing a love of helping young people, those who teach should come from the most talented among us, receive the best professional and broadest education possible… and be rewarded accordingly. In fact, meeting the most basic of our nation’s future needs will depend on top-notch public education.

Here is my take: The education of top professional teachers must include learning how to identify complicated family problems, uncover hidden student potentials and talents, and deal with threatening neighborhood influences. This knowledge is critical to producing early individual successes. And accomplishing all this requires taking solid courses in social work, psychology, and communication, as well as taking the best possible subject matter courses… preferably those taught by the most talented professors in the institution.

No-child-left-behind, universal common core, and required subject-matter testing were all invented in Washington. And they all failed because they did not address and remove the actual barriers to learning that many students and teachers face every day. Make no mistake, success in school has nothing to do with political ideology or forcing students to memorize subject matter. Rather, it requires the best educated, most talented, and well-compensated teachers working together with highly experienced colleagues… and supported by very strong funding.

The current secretary of education favors private school vouchers as her primary solution. But vouchers are too often a ticket to an unrealistic environment for poor and under performing students. And for good students, vouchers are simply a way to have tax payers foot the bill at a private or for-profit school.

Only well-funded public schools, with well-compensated top quality professional teachers, can meet the diverse and complex future needs of our nation. This is not rocket science. It’s simply common sense.



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With extremely smart and articulate young people taking up the issue of safety in America’s schools, I am wondering if good people on both sides of the gun issue can now find a meeting of the minds.

A colleague of mine recently pointed out that several independent polls show as many as half of NRA members agree with some automatic gun restrictions. And I recently saw a television report showing a focus group of concerned citizens and NRA members agreeing on a surprising number of solutions.

Maybe extreme polarization over gun rights is mostly the reaction to official NRA television spots, lobbyists tactics, and the divisive rhetoric of executives… and not the feelings of many longtime NRA members.

In the past the NRA has mostly been about gun safety. Members also buy guns for hunting and family defense. And all of  this seems reasonable, and no doubt constitutional. But many gun-free citizens have become terrified of living around huge numbers people from all walks of life toting high-powered automatic weapons , often openly and dramatically.

So here is my question: Without the involvement of NRA executives, lobbyists, politicians, or activists, and with independent poll information in hand, should not all community governments appoint permanent commissions to find reasonable ways forward?




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