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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?

 

 

 

If you are leading anything today, or aspire to lead something, or just want to be a more informed follower, it’s not very complicated to set up a home study experience… and if you wish, invite a group of fellow travelers to join you. This is not neuroscience!

Looking back over 50 years of seeking to understand, teach, practice, and write about communication, I believe that serious discussions and internet searches of topics similar to those below can yield the necessary knowledge and insights for leading in today’s world. Here’s my list:

  1. Describe why communication always seems to fail… and what (if anything) can be done about it.
  2. Search the internet for insights from communication and media research.
  3. Describe ways media revolutions significantly changed society, individuals, and audiences.
  4. List ways to intelligently consume and use 24/7 journalism.
  5. Identify the many troubling characteristics of the ever-pervasive new media ecosystem.
  6. Describe ways that media have become weapons, and fake news.
  7. List personal benefits and hazards of social media.
  8. Describe best ways to use digital media for direct and interactive communication.
  9. Identify ways to make sure brand identities are authentic and clear.
  10. Describe processes for orchestrating one-voice messaging.
  11. Show how to use small groups for problem-solving.
  12. Identify the essential elements of productive meetings.
  13. List common internal politics issues and ways to address them.
  14. Clarify best methods for resolving conflicts.
  15. Find examples of using soft-power in local and foreign relationship-building.
  16. List the requirements for effective partnerships and allies.
  17. Write rules for constructive speech in a new media world.

It is absolutely essential to have enough informed, talented, articulate, values-driven, and courageous leaders and followers ready, willing, and able to help save the day when it’s needed. With our current media clutter, endless confusion, and total political chaos, that day has come.

Last weekend we may have witnessed the next generation getting ready to take on dramatic change. And these young people are also born searchers and tweeters. So either the weekend was just another mass march, or it was an entire generation suddenly awakening to the real possibility that they can make history. Indeed they can… but only if they really have the will.

In retrospect, I decided to bet on them. How about you?

As I watched the rally in Washington I was mindful of the day John Kennedy pronounced that “the torch has been passed to a new generation.” He realized that both the timing and place were right. It was not so much about his politics. It was about his understanding of communication dynamics.

Readers of this blog know that for many months I have used communication dynamics analysis to assess what has been happening to both political parties and the presidency. In a nutshell, I have had to conclude that political ideology and both parties have lost touch with practical problem-solving, and the presidency is no longer governing from a foundation of basic American values.

It has been perplexing to me to observe how this predicament has been tolerated for so long by so many, and actively exploited for personal gain by others. The lessons of both history and communication warn that such a system will either degenerate into autocracy, or finally be changed by a powerful movement that emerges from widespread frustration and personal fear.

Now we have an uprising of young people. Millions of them. They are a new generation of smart, passionate, articulate, courageous, and new media savvy young people. Tweets will not frighten them! Right now their primary motivation is stopping gun violence. But I could also hear in many of their thoughtful comments an underlying disgust with unresponsive lobbyists and big-donor dominated politicians.

Here is my question: Is there an inspired, informed, and articulate someone out there who can soar above the narrowness of both political parties and give leadership to this incredibly impressive generation?

This weekend we had the kind of mass response and international news-making event in Washington that contains the seeds of a true mass movement. What do you think? Was this the dawn of a new day in America… or just another reality TV show?

I was planning to offer a new course on the communication dimensions of leadership and wanted to add material on why understanding the impact of media revolutions was especially important today for anyone who aspires to lead. Conveniently, I came upon a brilliant new book on leadership by General Martin Dempsey and Ori Brafman titled, Radical Inclusion, and it happened to contain some compelling new ideas about media.

The media topic is important for leaders for many reasons. The digital revolution is creating a bewildering world of clutter and confusion. Sending out more information is usually only adding to the clutter. Debates today are polarizing more than educating. Television is expanding the leadership advantage of celebrity and entertaining. Repeating lies over and over again is making them sound true. Misusing words is causing them to lose their meaning. Crude language and personal attacks are becoming widely acceptable. And the realization that top experts disagree on most everything is causing average Americans to throw up their hands in confusion.

And just as I was ready to teach my fully revised seminar, the Trump campaign appeared… and the impact of 24/7 news and social media suddenly became much more intense.

Studying the Trump campaign and first year of his presidency was a total immersion in chaos and turmoil. But it helped me see with even more clarity that this digital media revolution is actually creating a new and powerful media “ecosystem,” a system with interacting and interconnecting facts and fictions capable of producing permanent clutter and confusion. As a result the world will never be the same. Leading will be forever changed, And the Dempsey and Brafman book arrived just in time to add very relevant new media insights.

The daily deluge of digital news and social media is actually forming what the Radical Inclusion authors call a permanent  “digital echo,” a state of clutter and confusion that always will be hanging over us. The implications of this for leaders are enormous. “Ways forward” will never again be based on perceived certain truths. That’s because in this digital world there are no reliable truths. As a result, leading may now require imagining and acting out compelling “narratives” more than preparing detailed position papers.

In other words, instead of writing big data-driven strategic plans, to be really effective today aspiring leaders may now need to chart out exciting storyboards and recruit the most talented supporting characters they can find to help tell their stories and act out their dramatic narratives. It’s no longer quiet time in the library. Now, it’s quiet on the set!

When someone is hired or elected to lead your company, organization or nation what do you expect? Would you hire someone with a record like this?

Past business behavior. Often failed to honor contract labor obligations. Blamed others for his business failures and bankruptcies. Has an overly pompous and self-righteous reputation. Did not always pay back loans. Investigative journalists have written about the criminal and autocratic background of some associates.

Past personal behavior.  A record of numerous sexual harassment and assault charges. Bragged on tape about groping women. Attacks and bullies adversaries. Lies and exaggerates about accomplishments. Always claims that “only I can do it,” rejecting the value of teamwork. Uses “funny names” to intimidate people.

Current leadership behavior. Attacks the press as fake news while generating fake news himself. Uses Tweets to divert attention from serious issues, or to simply create chaos. Agrees to reasonable solutions in meetings and later abruptly changes his mind. Fails to show respect for predecessors and traditional allies. Pulls out of international agreements with no consultation. Arbitrarily ends regulations without regard for the impact on clean air, the environment, or public safety. Makes statements that create divisions. Often sounds racist. Shows no concern for the hostility that his rhetoric encourages. And craves flattery… making himself vulnerable to manipulation by other heads of state.

Morality and the U.S. Constitution. It has been assumed from the very beginning that our nation’s leaders will affirm a belief in individual freedom, equal justice, opportunity for all, and the pursuit of the greater good… and thus will make personal behavior and governance decisions based on those values. No president has been perfect. But this is the measure by which their place in history will always be determined.

The constitution simply puts forth a set of uniquely American values. It certainly never suggests that a president’s ends can justify any means. The “means” are those positive and opportunity enabling spaces where the American dream can come true for everyone. Thus, our country can return to greatness only when those uniquely American values once again shape the means by which it is led.

“Out of control” is picking up steam in Washington, and it’s worse than reality TV. It’s using social media to confuse, not communicate. It’s about a president who believes that keeping people guessing is a legitimate leadership strategy. And it’s turning out to be the best example yet of how communication and media chaos can destroy any sense of social order and well-being. Make no mistake. Words really do matter. And the words of top leaders matter a lot.

Just think about it. Periodic bi-partisan White House meetings repeatedly turn out to be no more than reality TV. Twitter feeds always follow to disrupt and create chaos. Then more surprise pronouncements add to the chaos. And in the midst of this mess cabinet members and staff are doing high security work without clearances and squandering taxpayer money on luxury travel and purchases. And this is a White House where complete loyalty is demanded by the person who is creating the mess. No wonder resignations are rapidly mounting up. Constant turmoil eventually becomes unbearable.

Sometime around mid-career I found myself teaching management communication in banks, manufacturing companies, public utilities, and all manner of institutions. We frequently talked about crisis management. But I must admit it was always in the context of a rational CEO with a team of experienced managers developing responses so that the organization would be legitimately seen as knowing what it’s doing! When the purpose of the leader, however, is to create chaos… all rational bets are off!

Ethical leadership and honest teamwork “earn” loyalty. No need to demand it. But when loyalty is demanded and communication is in disarray everyone ends up focusing on their own survival. In private business, trustees can fix such situations. In today’s Washington, there are no rational fixes

In the past, I wrote that city leaders usually become bipartisan and pragmatic because their citizens are right there in their face demanding action. When all is said and done, immigration, homegrown terrorism, police-community relations, drug problems, air pollution, clean water, healthcare, election districts, industry closings, and unemployment, all end up playing themselves out locally.

In the end, maybe the bottom-up pragmatism of cities and NOT the top-down chaos of Washington is our best way forward. If so, when cities show they can produce results, we should pressure Washington into giving them the resources they need.

Instead of improving our overall ability to better understand each other, the recent 24/7 social media revolution unintentionally created a ripe breeding ground for confusing and often quite hostile political and issue polarization.

It eventually became very clear to me that in this emotionally charged world political ideology actually was contributing very little to serious problem-solving. And it also became clear to me that governing was becoming hopelessly combative. Now it seems that finding reasonable ways forward will require commissioned groups of experienced experts and honest citizens working constructively together.

Obviously, this has not happened. Instead our political system has degenerated into information warfare. As viciously negative advertising and political district gerrymandering became successful in getting people elected, the sad consequence of all this fighting has been the destruction of public trust.

When President Trump established uncompromising expectations related to industrial regulations, climate change, free trade, immigration, tax cuts, the justice system, and traditional institutions of government, he was certain he could dictate it all. And his continuing lies, bullying, personal attacks, war provocations, and admiration of autocrats, are clear examples that he aims to use “by any means necessary” to achieve his ends.

We have also seen this same anything-goes attitude play out in Congress. Extreme House Republicans tried to protect the President from ongoing misbehavior investigations by attacking the integrity of the investigators with a selectively worded and conspiracy-inciting report. House Democrats have now responded with their own selectively worded counter-report. Ends by any means necessary is also now commonplace in Congress.

In the wake of the recent high school shooting in Florida we are seeing the NRA resort to potentially destructive means. They broadened their rhetoric way beyond a rational case for hunting and self-protection to viciously attacking the patriotism of every different-thinking person. If it continues, this level of outright fear-mongering can easily lead to country-wide culture wars… and much worse.

Evangelicals on a bus in Israel were asked why they supported the president. Constant lies and immoral behavior seem contrary to traditional Christian teachings. Their response, however, was that the Bible says Jerusalem should be the capital of Israel and this president is God’s way of bringing that about. As for the president’s character and immoral behavior, Jesus forgives. So ends justify means here as well.

But ends never work out as perpetrators originally imagined. And their means are what become the substance of our everyday lives. Today extremists are appearing everywhere. Most have a fear-mongering purpose. They include Russian agents, racists of all kinds, political extremists, political action committees, and even grassroots patriots with narrow interpretations of the U.S. constitution.

A constant daily diet of  “by any means necessary” has the potential to destroy civic society. If the president and congress would only commission work groups of genuine experts and experienced citizens to find real solutions to real problems we might eventually find a rational way out of some of this mess!