Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

It’s clear that Democrats will have to prove that the current president is incompetent. They got a great start on that last night. Michelle made that case, and Bernie made the best speech of his life.

But the campaign must also beware of too much drab. Looking too drab and sounding so has it’s limitations when developing a complete strategic communication initiative. And establishing the right tone can be a really tricky proposition.

In this election, Americans must also clearly see the light at the end of the tunnel. They must hear about a bold new vision for the future… and plans for how a new White House can be organized to make that a reality.

Admittedly, it’s a big communication challenge to accomplish both... make the gloom story clear, and at the same time show what the wonderful new day ahead will look like.

Maybe much of this will be accomplished by end of the week? 

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The founding fathers had disagreements on just how powerful a president should be. The American revolution made it clear that a dictatorship was out of the question, but just how much power a president should have remained a bit unclear.

Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, Leadership for Turbulent times, analyzes the leadership styles of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson… four presidents who were uniquely suited to powerfully address the big issues of their turbulent times.

What to look for in a powerful leader:

  1. A special intellectual strength specifically suited to solving the problems of the times.
  2. An ability to find and lead projects intended to unify the nation, states, and institutions. 
  3. A longstanding commitment to public service with no intent to use the office to gain personal wealth.
  4. A track record of surrounding oneself with a team of proven experts.
  5. An ability to admit failures, apologize, and recover from them by changing course.
  6. And no history of unresolved scandalous foreign relationships, and personal behavior. 

Here’s the problem…

  1. The Electoral College was supposed to insure that competent people would prevent ill-prepared people from getting elected. Obviously, there was no way to anticipate today’s internet and social media. 
  2. The balance of power concept was never intended to allow a would-be authoritarian to refuse to cooperate with the legislature’s constitutionally defined role. 
  3. Strong leadership is usually required to solve big problems and move institutions and nations forward, but that leadership must be largely situational. “Take charge” leaders are always needed in times of crises. 

The problem in America is not whether or not the constitution supports a strong presidency. The problem is what to do when both the Electoral College and impeachment failed, and the elected president is simply not qualified to lead the nation through today’s urgent crises.  


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Public relations and advertising firms are using social media marketing tools to help politicians win in an information-cluttered and confusing world.  

The Brexit campaign in the UK was able to make it look like huge numbers of Brits wanted to leave the EU. The Trump 2016 campaign used the same tactics to win the election in the US.  And further, the Russians, Chinese, Iranians and others around the world are doing the same thing now. Politics will never be the same.

Here is how it’s done:

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Tik Tok, Reddit and other social media platforms collect private information. This personal data identifies small pockets of forgotten and frustrated people, as well as intellectuals and wealthy people who feel they have fallen behind and deserve a better place in the world. Messages are customized for them on topics designed to stir their anger and reinforce their dissatisfaction. Advertising is also targeted directly to them using the same social media platforms. And while they are receiving personally customized messages, they are also becoming predisposed to accept an authoritarian’s solution to their discontent.

All this happens on social media platforms which the general public never sees. The public knows the issues because the news media have covered official statements and political events. But many end up surprised after votes are counted. They just can’t figure out how extreme ideas, or a would-be authoritarian, could win. Social media is how.

Unlike the dictators he so admires, our president has a lack of knowledge of his country’s history, a misunderstanding of recent world events, a serious dearth of modern management skills, a lack of planning for a second term, an inability to call upon empathy, an overwhelming concern for only himself, and virtually no ethical compass. A second term for him… would be a total nightmare for us.    


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Dictatorships happen across the world when small and isolated groups of people feel ignored by their government. This includes people in forgotten cities and neighborhoods, those stuck in hidden poverty, many minority groups, and even some disgruntled highly educated people.

Authoritarians play to these groups first by causing social divisions and chaos… and then by presenting themselves as the “one person” who can fix things.  

It’s true that democracies don’t reward every competent person. There are winners and losers. Even so it is really surprising to see just how many “successful appearing” people reach the point where they are willing to offer their complete loyalty to an authoritarian in exchange for an impressive title and imagined prestige.

It’s important for them (and us) to realize that authoritarians never want to keep experts too close. They are too threatening. Authoritarians only want loyalty… which they demand, but rarely offer in return.   

You can be sure that America’s founders rejected authoritarian rule. But they also feared that democracy might not guarantee a stable government. So they designed our “electoral college” so wiser individuals would be able to prevent unqualified people from winning national elections. Of course, the founders had no way of knowing that many years later a digital media revolution would produce the kind of chaos and confusion that would completely change the game.

Today’s digital media can either unite… or divide and energize hostilities. Thus, they provide perfect tools for autocrats. And once authoritarians experience even a little power, they generally will not peacefully give it up!  

Multi-talented historian and journalist Anne Applebaum describes the worldwide consequences of all this in her new book, Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism. Anne was born in America, lived and wrote for a while in England, and now lives in Poland. Her book is must reading for all who worry about the loss of democracy.

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Make good trouble” was John Lewis’s simple advice to his followers. In addition to all of his incredible civil rights accomplishments, Lewis was instinctively a natural communicator:

  1. He established national, and eventually international, prominence by coining simpleauthentic, and quotable phrases. 
  2. He constantly interacted personally and through media with his followers… which no doubt caused them to feel they helped shape his story.
  3. Therefore, his followers were always happy to help spread his simple messages. Even in this confusing information-saturated world, word-of-mouth remains the most powerful of all communication tools.
  4. Television news coverage of the violence that was perpetrated on Lewis’s nonviolent marchers insured an emotional impact with a very large audience. But it also insured that this TV footage would also become part of the archive of American history.
  5. Yes, John Lewis would become one of the most effective civil rights advocates the world has ever seen… and he would accomplish it partly because he was also a master communicator.

I spent an entire career communicating institutions, and then teaching and writing about what I learned: The most important lesson about leadership communication was that it must never be about “spinning,” or exaggerated promises. Just as John Lewis did, messaging should always be about finding what is truly authentic about the moment, and then finding the best simple way to express it. 

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As a professor of strategic communication I have written about marketing politics and the communication issues related to effective governance. As an analyst, I have blamed both parties for polarizing and paralyzing congress, and the president for endlessly tweeting with self-serving lies and exaggerations that confuse the world.  

Personally, I have been conservative when it comes to fiscal matters, but find many social programs necessary for a democracy. And I think that regulations that protect the public health are critically important. A leaner more efficient government also makes sense to me, but this must be achieved with great care. Campaigning can be partisan, but governance cannot. It must be more pragmatic.

This administration has taught us that reducing the size of government cannot be abrupt, mindless and partisan. But I have come to believe that government can be leaner and more efficient. Eliminating positions can be done very carefully, as can eliminating programs or departments. Adding and merging programs can be done just as carefully, with every effort made to find important places for current talented and experienced professionals. Only experienced people should be recruited for important cabinet positions, and all of this can happen so everyone can work from the same policy message page. Achieving all this will be the big challenge for a new administration.

In the final analysis, a new America will require a leaner, efficiently restructured administration. It will also require a well-staffed, talented, and totally professional communication support organization. “Marketing A New America” will be the topic of my next post. Stay tuned.


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Changes resulting from the recent media revolutions, will be permanent. Prepare yourself for a world of confusion… produced by both domestic and foreign conspiracy crazies, disagreeing experts, lies that will begin to sound true, some 24/7 news media enjoying too much commercial success, and digital media platforms that are only as ethical as their users.

From a political perspective, Francis Fukuyama, Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford, writes in a recent Foreign Affairs article that the factors responsible for successful pandemic responses have been “a competent state apparatus, a government that citizens trust, and effective leaders.” The problem is that some democracies have performed well, while others have not. And the same is true for autocracies… some have done well, others have not.

The fact is that the future may not resemble the present. Some economies may not recover. Too many people have lost their livelihoods. Too many governments have not been able to afford needed bailouts. And too many autocrats have taken advantage of the need for central leadership and have put themselves permanently in charge.

As for the United States, the lack of early pandemic action, inconsistent healthcare, simultaneous political and cultural crises, and reelection-obsessed national leadership, has put the country in one hell-of-a mess. And the president’s 4th of July divisive, angry, and totally ignorant of American history rhetoric could be the last straw for many Americans.

I am encouraged that many established scholars and prize-winning journalists think it’s not too late for new leadership to turn the tide. It will require positive, democratic, and visionary ideas, shouted far and wide, using every old and new media platform, to restore both domestic and foreign trust in a united America.

This is not about political ideology. It’s about having experienced and competent government leadership, supported by the nation’s best talent… and all guided by a political party that has it’s ethical head on straight!!!

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Before I retired as Vice Chancellor I spent several years working as an advocate for higher education in Washington. I also met regularly with a group interested in exploring the potential of public diplomacy and “soft power” to improve our country’s standing in the world.  

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, in his new book Exercise of Power, discusses how we often need “soft power” more than military (hard) power. And in a recent interview with Rachel Maddow he explained that when the United States Information Agency (USIA) was abolished as a downsizing move of the Clinton administration, the responsibility for public diplomacy/soft power was given to the Department of State, where the necessary staff and budget to support it was also reduced. He further explained that programs designed to explain America to the world, such as the Voice of America (VOA) and other media initiatives, were also weakened.

As the second world war was ending, leaders from the U.S., the UK, and Russia met to imagine the peace-keeping potential of a world bank, an international monetary fund, and a “united nations” organization… and American leadership was seen as critical to making these organizations work. They all have had their ups and downs over the years, and many think that the eventual loss of the USIA made this kind of “soft-power” leadership even more difficult. And to make matters worse, the Trump administration has been taking steps to eliminate all of our nation’s soft-power leadership gains.

Regaining global leadership will require a new administration to organize the collaborations necessary to deal with the most critical international issues… and then to furnish the strategic communication and digital media talent and technology necessary to make those collaborations visible all over the world.  

In other words, what we need now is a full-speed, soft-power assault!

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Walter Cronkite…  once celebrated as “the most trusted man in America.”  What would Walter say about being called “the enemy of the people,” or say about”fake news” claims?

Is journalism the enemy of the people? Of course not. Is news ever fake? Very rarely. But in today’s constant clutter of information, journalism has indeed changed… in both positive and negative ways.  

  1. It’s important to recognize that many journalists are committed to finding and reporting the truth.
  2. Professional journalists traditionally have tried to maintain a “balance” between opposing ideas.
  3. But the 24/7 digital/social media revolution has permanently upset this balance.
  4. First, the “enemy of the people” charge has actually increased the number of readers, listeners, and viewers, making many large media organizations significantly more profitable.
  5. The result has been an increase in ads, beautiful anchors, star reporters, clever opinion writers… with their headlines mostly determined by politicians, government officials, sports heroes, and Hollywood celebrities.

Two solutions to consider: 1. Find local and national journalists and news media organizations you can trust… learn from their expertise and choose your actions accordingly. 2. Support core media literacy education in public schools, colleges, and community groups. As always, truth is best found in wisely led education. 

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The Dynamics of Credibility… essential in a crisis.

  1. A record of telling the truth.
  2. A background of consistent moral character.
  3. A record of explaining exactly what happened when there is troubling news.
  4. A record of admitting errors, and a willingness to apologize.
  5. Respect for worthy adversaries.

Effective Leadership Communication… essential at all times.

  1. Always tell the truth.
  2. Apologize after making a mistake, or neglecting to act sooner.
  3. Include and acknowledge top experts when planning, and incorporate their recommendations.
  4. In a crisis, unify the public by delivering truthful status reports, asking for whatever sacrifice is necessary, and promising that with their help the future will be better than ever.
  5. Collaborate with a highly professional communication staff and/or group, and with their help use mainstream and social media platforms each day to keep the public fully informed.

Leaders with a history of autocratic behaviors and questionable moral character will not have the credibility necessary to unite people. Rather, their need to attack those with different opinions will inevitably lead to greater divisions and dangerous conflicts. 

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