Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

We simply cannot ignore what words can do. When divisive words become the norm, they inevitably incite anger… and eventually produce violence. The fact is… Social media are creating an international vocabulary of copycat words, with the power to unite extremists and incite violence.

“Immigrant invasion” emergencies. When any emergency is explained as an “invasion of immigrants,” it must be recognized that this is a code phrase being used by white supremacists who have already staged killings in New Zealand, Charleston, Pittsburg, Charlottesville, and many other places around the world.  Today, social media has become its own ecosystem with an incredible international bonding power for lost and angry souls.

Contempt for adversaries. When constructive conversations in search of imaginative solutions degenerate into widespread contempt and hatred for adversaries, violence is close at hand.

Populism, nationalism, and autocracy.  When populism and nationalism force citizens to take sides, an autocracy is in the making. Fueled by social media, and encouraged by autocrats, dangerous divisions have already appeared in Russia, China, Philippines, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, the U.S., and a number of countries in eastern and central Europe.

The dividing power of wealth. History teaches that widening class divisions can eventually destroy entire civilizations. In the U.S., huge tax cuts mostly benefiting the rich, unfair job advantages, easy elite college access, plus arrogance… and more, might be early indications of a possible middle class and poor people’s rebellion.

The seriousness of climate change. Willingness to ignore modern science by too many of those invested in polluting industries, is inspiring a growing and dangerous youth rebellion. Such generational divisions have a history of turning into worldwide, peace-threatening, demonstrations.

Code words and phrases. Fear mongering on social media every day exacerbates, unites, and incites. And when leaders suggest that their followers might get out of control on their own, a kind of permission for violence is felt by those who only need a little encouragement.

Autocracies can actually become attractive. In countries threatened by division, a gradual belief can emerge that the control promised by an autocrat is necessary to bring about stability. Inevitably, however, autocracies backfire into cruel dictatorships.

“With me, or against me” are words that produce dangerous divisions, no matter the political ideology. Ironically, they are both the dividing and uniting words of terrorists, autocrats, and dictators all over the world.

Arthur Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, has a new Book: Love Your Enemies. It is an alarming warning of how violence results when constructive debating grows into contempt and hatred for your adversaries.

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Finally feeling in political control, party enthusiasm might very quickly lead Democrats to a an unanticipated costly overreach. And it’s important to understand that there are unavoidable communication dynamics at work in political moments like this.

You announce a Congressional investigation. You release ambitious plans to move quickly ahead. You immediately make requests for documents from your recently defeated adversaries. And then, you ask many of them to testify at a hearing. But, just as quickly those adversaries begin complaining about harassment, and very soon begin to use doublespeak to state doubts about your legitimacy. In time, this constant noise-making opens a few cracks and weaknesses in your arguments, threatening the future of your investigation.

In the case of current hearings underway in the House of Representatives, one committee’s immediate request for over 80 documents, combined with extremely liberal ideas becoming vocal at the same time, will likely expose unanticipated vulnerabilities. All lawyers know that in situations like this embarrassment is lurking somewhere. Thus, political parties in the minority will always complain about hypocrisy, and in this case will brand leftist liberal ideas as Communist-inspired socialism.

And all this is going on when polls are showing that the majority of Americans are somewhere in the political middle. So when Republicans brand Democrats as extreme socialists, and also produce a pragmatic sounding counter-plan, they will very likely find a large and receptive “silent-majority” audience. Hence, aggressive overreach is dangerous… especially now for the Democrats.

It’s also important to understand that the danger of overreach is a natural part of communication dynamics, and has little to do with political ideology. 

So avoiding the bad consequences of overreach requires strategic communication savvy more than political argument. Don’t make huge requests for documents from adversaries up front. Consider inviting them to meet with your committee first. Carefully plan penetrating, but fair, questions. Then, follow-up with requests for only essential documents. Don’t be in a big hurry. Only then, threaten to subpoena the important hold-outs. And all this while stating and restating your ultimate pragmatic game-plan… preferably one that meets the needs of the already known “silent” majority.

In today’s overwhelming media ecosystem, the irony is that what seems to be a political breakthrough one day, might end up only adding more clutter and confusion to an already vast universe of good ideas. Or worse, overreaching can also lead to political defeat.

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I write about media and communication, and the political consequences of media revolutions. Politically I am independent. But I have become disappointed in the legislative paralysis caused by extreme partisanship… and that lies, exaggerations, personal attacks, and double-speak have become an accepted reality in political discourse.

From a pure communication and media perspective, today’s rose garden performance was a disaster. It was factually incoherent, rambled for 50 minutes around unrelated issues, and was even contradictory about whether the need for more wall is a real national emergency. At one point, he actually admitted that he did not have to declare this emergency now… adding that he is already building the wall.

It was 50 minutes of pure “word salad.” I wrote about this brand of double-speak in Lesson 477. Google the phrase and you find three related health conditions. The third condition is “narcissistic personality disorder,” described as a person with an inflated sense of self-importance, disregard for others, and excessive need for admiration.

All Americans should suffer through all 50 minutes of this Rose Garden disaster. However you feel about the need for a border wall, after analyzing this performance you simply must be concerned about what is actually going on in this administration. You will likely conclude that we really do have a national security emergency, and it is living in the White House.

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As the democratic candidates for president get in line, it is refreshing to see diversity in race, gender, and religion. It is also refreshing to see intelligent young people getting interested in politics. They really do seem to represent the diversity of America.

Most have done their homework, have impressive backgrounds, are good speakers, and have a lot of stored up enthusiasm and energy to display in the many months ahead. And if you listen to their words, and are moved by their upbeat tone, you will likely conclude that any one of them will make a great leader of something.

But recent television and social media revolutions, combined with hard lessons from the 2016 election, have already changed the requirements for winning in 2020. Looking strong on television, in social media, and in person is now basic. And simply being photogenic does not help. In fact, “too pretty” today can actually be counterproductive. What works best in a “hard-hitter” world are leaders who can look both really strong and sincerely empathetic at the same time.

Here is what all this will mean in 2020:

(1)  A physical presence and “look” of strength will be necessary to match Mr. Trump’s towering, loud-mouth, arrogance. This strength need not come from height, weight, or gender. Rather it can come from posture, facial expression, attitude, tone, rock solid self-confidence, and overall body language.

(2)  An unwavering strength of character must also be obvious from past and current behaviors in order to counter Trump’s lies, exaggerations, cruelty, bully tactics, lack of ethics, autocratic behaviors, and name calling.

Therefore, a picture image of both personal strength and empathy is the bottom-line prerequisite for winning in 2020. This will matter more than gender, age, race, or even rally generated excitement. And a deep understanding of issues, a clear vision for the future, and fully explained commitments, must underlie everything.

Before you support any candidate you should ask these questions: Overall, is this person strong enough to win? Can he or she handle any crisis, in any place, at any time, with clear strategic thinking? And when in the oval office, will I once again be very proud of my United States of America?

Make no mistake, it will take a rare blend of unflappable personal strength and second-nature empathy to pull all this off. And just liking a candidate will not be enough. If this current crop of candidates remains an indicator, by 2020 you will probably still like most of them.

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It was a typical Trump address. Nice parts were written for him to read. The rest continued with his same divisive positions on issues, often with a threatening tone. In the end, nothing changed.

It’s clear that we still have a president who double-speaks most of the time, and continues to shamelessly make false and exaggerated claims. Simply put, the state of the union remains unstable and frightening.

So what should people of good will do now?  Here are my thoughts:

  1. Support candidates in 2020 who honestly champion liberty, justice, and equal opportunity for everyone, no matter their political affiliation. And don’t be fooled by false claims and olive branches.
  2. Support and get involved with institutions that relate to your expertise, experience, and values. Strong institutions are the foundation of American democracy, and we must rescue them from daily abuse.
  3. Speak out when people around you appear to be supporting leaders with autocratic tendencies. That is what the American Revolution was all about.
  4. Never forgive lies, vulgarity, bully tactics, self-admiration, cruelty, friendships with dictators, angry rants, name calling, and preoccupation with building personal wealth... just because you may like some of his policies. Bury your head in the sand, and our democratic republic will be lost.

The situation we face now is dire. It’s not a matter of examining each presidential action to see if it possibly makes sense. Rather, it’s about what the sum total of the president’s daily contradictory pronouncements tells us about the true state of our union.

When it is all said and done, nothing has changed. Chaos continues. National security is at risk. And character matters now more than ever.

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The president first took ownership of the government shutdown, and then shifted blame to the democrats. Then he gave false accounts of where and how most drugs are coming into the country. He also grossly exaggerated numbers of everything, as well as the threat of central American caravans. Then he threatened declaring a state of national emergency. And more recently he proclaimed that wall funding had already been allocated by Congress and major wall construction is already underway. Referencing all this, one pundit referred to all these communication inconsistencies and obfuscations as “word salad.”

I never realized that the description “word salad” was listed in the dictionary, but I found it in my I-Pad Dictionary app.

“Incoherent speech consisting of both real and imaginary words, lacking comprehensive meaning…”

Google the phrase, and you find three related health conditions:  (1) Schizophrenia,  (2) Disorganized Schizophrenia, and (3) Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Number 3 especially caught my attention: “A disorder in which a person has an inflated sense of self-importance. Symptoms may include grandiosity, disregard for others’ feelings, and excessive need for admiration.”   

Word salad leadership is dangerous anywhere you find it. You might want to listen to the 2019 state of the union address with this in mind.

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What impact has 24/7 nonstop news coverage had on the government shutdown? Here are some thoughts about the role of conflict in the news business:

News as a business… the news business requires delivering audiences to advertising. Since any crisis brings intense public interest, intensive reporting about conflict is central to the business of news.

Competition… news organizations compete with each other for audience. Pressure to find new facts and angles is relentless. This can lead to nonstop 24/7 coverage… some call it “feeding frenzies.” Such frenzies keep conflicts alive, which is good for the news business.

The celebrity effect… the news business has its own celebrities. Competition between the different personalities and strengths of “celebrity journalists” helps keep audiences large and connected. Following your favorite anchors or journalists during a crisis is good for business.

Consequences of media revolutions… media revolutions produce information clutter and confusion. Reporting about conflicts can give career-driven journalists a chance to gain name recognition.

Biased sources… many news consumers today select biased sources that simply reinforce what they already believe. Shameless reporting can keep their audiences engaged, which is good for biased news businesses.

Exaggerations and lies… most official statements about who is to blame are flawed. Repeating these statements over and over tends to add more heat to the conflict, which is counterproductive to finding practical solutions.

Nature of television imagery… television is a drama-making medium. Action shots, close-ups, editing, and montage are its main tools. Putting people involved into hearings and meetings, and then putting them on television. raises emotions and heightens conflicts… all good for business.

Chaos and disruptions… distracting official pronouncements add to conflicts every day. News organizations feel compelled to report them immediately and thoroughly. But this means that the wild activities of administration officials and other news makers will rarely get covered. But in the business of news, conflict always trumps most everything else.

Finding conflict solutions… articulating pragmatic solutions therefore must be the business of someone else. It’s not the business of news. So… long ago the president should have appointed a commission of recognized experts on immigration to give him a comprehensive plan. Such a plan probably would have included some kind of wall… and the news media would have happily reported that!





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