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Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

I taught international communication in the UK during summers for almost 20 years. Truthfully, I found the Royals mostly amusing, much like watching a fairy tale live on TV. And many of the British academics I knew regarded them as very expensive relics. So I guess I was never sure of their cost-benefit.

But “Prince Harry the Maverick” might have actually pulled off something quite spectacular, and just when the world needs it most. My take is that we witnessed in this wedding a game-changing inclusive coming together of many cultures, not just a Royal marrying an American. I think it’s very likely that the Harry-Meghan partnership will go on to produce other events and projects that will put human rights back on the agenda with worldwide visibility and praise. No racism! No divisiveness! No arrogance! And no Trump.

What we witnessed Saturday was a blending of some of the pomp, pageantry ,and horse-drawn carriage Royal traditions, with a more contemporary less formal wedding ceremony staged in a more comfortable chapel. Surprising many, an African-American Episcopal Bishop from Chicago delivered a very lively and quite dramatic sermon… pleading for more love in the world and an end to hunger and poverty. But the Archbishop of Canterbury, the leader of the Church of England, administered the marriage vows in a more traditional tone. Contrasts continued, however, with a beautiful classical cello solo contrasted with a loud toe-tapping gospel music choir. When all was said and done I think most of this mixing of cultures and styles worked fine. Diana’s boys obviously had already worked their magic and the Royal family was far more ready for change than most of us realized.

So we now have a new mixed-race Royal who took off her American Hollywood makeup, exposed her natural freckles, and demonstrated that she was ready to quit her movie star job and join a full-time partnership with a different kind of Prince… a partnership with the real possibility of changing the world agenda. After all, she majored in both theater and international affairs at Northwestern University, and has already led many human rights projects in Africa and other places in the world. It’s obvious from her past volunteer projects that Meghan shares Harry’s passion for realistic world problem-solving.

So I am betting that Harry and Meghan have many more surprises up their sleeves. It should be really exciting to see what they do next. And you can be very sure the television cameras will follow wherever they go, and the news reports and tweets won’t be fake!

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Later, when you see the current president’s official portrait will you think builder, fixer, or wrecker?

When a president is mostly a wrecker:  Healthcare: Ends or reduces the current plan with no replacement. Regulations: Ends environmental regulations without continuing protections for public health. Ends investment and banking regulations without continuing economic crash protection. Taxes: Puts in place a program that further enriches wealthy individuals and businesses, but barely helps the middle class. Climate change: Ends international agreements, angers allies, and ignores scientific facts. Peace broker: Takes one side and then blames the resulting anger and violence on the other side. Financial disclosure: Refuses to do this, and then finds ways to use the office to expand personal wealth. Past leaders: Constantly destroys their credibility, and then puffs-up in pious self-congratulation.

When a president is a skilled fixer of flawed programs: Evaluates heath care programs and fixes the problems. Ends unnecessary environmental regulations but retains those essential for public health. Works to expand climate change research and cooperation around the world. Proposes ideas to improve trade agreements in order to strategically advance US interests. Builds on current nuclear containment agreements to further limit the possibilities of war. Explains what the administration is doing in a manner that clearly demonstrates a deep knowledge of public policy. Proudly stands on the shoulders of those who came before, references learning about both problems and possibilities from them, and proposes new and constructive ideas as next steps. Understands that viciously denouncing past leaders eliminates the possibility of building enough support to lead the entire country.

When a president is a visionary builder: Proposes new and innovative programs and project initiatives to advance the society as a whole. Designs government sponsored infrastructure projects to energize sagging economies. Writes civil rights protections into the law in order to strengthen and insure equal justice. Supports international watchdog organizations and provides resources and new ideas to help resolve difficult conflicts. Keeps promises without totally wrecking past accomplishments. Honestly explains why some promises cannot be kept instead of spreading lies. And talks about past leaders with gratitude for their service, and respect.

Are you happy with what we have now? If not, what are you doing about it?

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Who we are as Americans is made very clear in the Constitution. Who we are as individuals is the sum total of our deeds and our words! So when you think about it, what we have here now is a serious misalignment between our president and our constitution.

“The Donald” spoke at the NRA convention in Dallas this week and promised that no one will take away the second amendment as long as he is president. He also stated that he knows all Democrats and NRA critics will take it away if they get the chance. Honestly, I really don’t know a single person who advocates eliminating the second amendment.

The writers of the second amendment did so in the context of guns they had at the time and worries about militias. Years later, no one wants to take away that basic constitutional right to self-defense, to shoot targets for sport, and to hunt. But it’s also true that the constitution does not preclude the possibility that changes in society and weapon technology might suggest that a few adjustments are appropriate. Sadly today’s angry rhetoric is too polarizing to allow civilized conversation on the topic, and Trump’s NRA speech was certainly not designed for healing.

In fact, the president’s NRA speech was mostly a rambling campaign style laundry list of boasts and unexplained promises. It was vintage Trump… big boasts, few details, and no empathy. Recently all his speeches have become rallies that repeat the topics of his daily chaos-producing tweets and mind-changes with more self-praises and angry attacks. The NRA speech was no different.

The result is that those in Trump’s “base” take leaps of faith regarding his promises, while countless others plunge into a deep depression fearing that their future will be in country of hostile divisions and global isolation.

Those of us who have been engaged in branding our institutions, cities, or nations, always begin by asking: Who are we? It is a question that usually can be answered by reviewing founding missions. Once a founding mission is understood, clear guidelines for appropriate programs, projects, value statements, messages, and future goals, become apparent. It also becomes apparent what leadership qualities and values future visionaries must possess.

The basic values deeply embedded in the U.S. Constitution are simply individual freedom, equal opportunity, and justice for everyone. And in our country no one is above the law. Our goal, then, must be for all Americans to model those values at home and around the world… yes, including the president.

As James Comey calmly put it in one of his recent TV interviews: “Who we are is all we have.”

 

 

 

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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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