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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. 

Fixing our broken nation will require a new president with a much more “democratic” leadership style.

The new president will need to bring back experienced professionals in the state department, the justice department, the FBI, the CIA, and other government departments and institutions, along with a commitment that they are there to bring their best judgement to solving the nation’s problems. International treaties and alliances will also need to be renegotiated with many countries, especially Russia, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and China.

But just as important… the new president will need to establish a very high level and modern strategic communication department in the White House, with all the talent and media tools necessary to bring people together around the founding ideas of this unique nation.

Elements of a Modern Strategic Communication Plan

Understanding the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence is absolutely necessary: For example, these ideas are central:

“…all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness… whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it.”

And these documents also demonstrate the concern the founders had about the danger of foreign influence, and the autocratic control of a king.

The Importance of Identity Messaging

While fixing domestic policy, foreign relationships, and daily operations is critically important, the American public will very quickly need to learn about a well thought out process for developing new national identity language and nationwide participation in real problem-solving.

Participation and Integration

Authenticity and transparency will be essential for lasting credibility. Therefore, effective communication will require the best thinking of extremely well-informed opinion leaders in the White House, government departments, civil-service institutions, cultural and educational institutions, local and global nonprofits, and citizen participation groups in every state. Their involvement, word-of-mouth enthusiasm, and the simultaneous use all media platforms, will generate the daily intensity and visibility necessary to unify and re-energize our beloved American experiment.

Thus, a new participation-oriented president, using today’s media to get the whole nation talking, may be all that’s needed to restore democracy… and also reestablish America’s leadership role in the world.  

 

There is a role for everyone to play when it comes to handling situations like we have now. 

We have a spreading pandemic, millions out of work. and constitutionally protected protesters in the streets sometimes indistinguishable from looters and criminals. And in the background we also have a military-obsessed president who rejects science, eliminates public safety regulations, needlessly rounds-up immigrants, ignores obvious climate change, and divides the nation with his dictatorial pronouncements.

News media certainly have a role to play in this scenario. But real change will require the leaders of state and local governments, along with the leaders of federal and non-profit institutions, to use every media platform possible to communicate “save our democracy” themes every day. 

When FDR began his regular radio talks the entire country was in disarray. It was in the midst of a depression, political polarization, and disagreements about the danger to the U.S. of Nazi activities in Germany. He dealt with all this simultaneously by first adding infrastructure projects to give people work, and then gradually bringing them together by reinforcing traditional American values.

1. The White House. To deal effectively with today’s complicated issues, this or another president will have to develop truly meaningful action initiatives and communicate empathetic talking themes every day. These themes and actions must also demonstrate an ability to bring people together to collaborate on solutions.

2. The news business. Skillful journalism can and must clarify issues, suggest ideas, and report events. I have been impressed with New York Times opinion reporter Tom Friedman’s suggestion that Joe Biden appoint his cabinet now so that the voting public can see how our most serious issues will be addressed. But journalist Friedman can only suggest ideas, he cannot implement solutions.

2. Corporations and businesses. Recently my thinking has been influenced by Rebecca Henderson’s book, Re-imagining Capitalism. Today could be a real turning point. Businesses should now be able to be profitable while also  creatively advancing the welfare of their employees, supporting criminal justice movements, and promoting the powerful potential of corporate social responsibility.

3. Political parties. With so many issues causing violence and disruptive national divisions, this is a perfect time for the parties to explain the difference between campaigning on ideology and balance-of-power governance.

4. Think tanks. These institutions are home to intellectuals and officials not currently serving in government. They are perfectly positioned to provide the data necessary for smart problem-solving.

5. Local nonprofits.  These organizations have a special opportunity now to initiate creative projects that enable criminal justice collaborations and improvements.

6. International organizations. Incorporating unity-building themes and projects fit the purposes of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s). These include most professional associations, global banks, management consulting firms, and relief organizations.

7. Universities and colleges. Each president or chancellor should already be explaining the institution’s interest in community service, as well as its potential for helping to bring about cross-cultural understanding. Projects related to leadership development, problem-solving research, conflict management, terrorism, healthcare, climate change, energy, regulation, poverty, immigration, and more, all can help both the local community and world problem-solving

In summary, major crisis solutions must begin with an empathetic president and message themes so powerful that other leaders and organizations are motivated to echo them with their words and deeds. 

In our 24/7 digital world, the daily implosion of information becomes a confusing mass of mush. When leaders are in conflict every day, as is happening with pandemic messaging and riots in cities, most of us throw up our hands and cry out for simple, transparent truth.

But a major theme of my writing over the years has been that media revolutions change everything… from families, to politics, to individuals, to education, to religion… and part of that change is overwhelming and confusing information noise.

For example, elimination of air and water pollution regulations, threats to eliminate health insurance without alternatives, tax cuts that favor the rich and big business, relief funds that don’t reach the most hurt, budget cuts in public education, quiet arrests and deportations of immigrants by ICE in major cities, verbal attacks on critics, tweets that can encourage violence, thoughtless abandonment of international agreements, inaccurate claims about virus tests, confusing timetables for vaccines, blatant science denials, many dismantled institutions, and the Voice of America becoming the voice of this administration, all of which add up to big daily doses of frightening noise. Very little truth can be found buried inside this kind of media mania.

Surprisingly, however, truth can be found beyond the daily news by simply seeing the “big picture.” It’s a very clear picture of a one-person-in-control autocracy.   

The founders of this democracy put forth a balance of power framework to insure that no administration could establish an autocracy.

Here is the current situation. Hard power is the job of the Department of Defense. Soft power is the practice of diplomacy, which is the job of the Department of State. The state department explains the current administration’s foreign policy to governments around the world… and their citizens. This last part of their job is generally called “public diplomacy.”

But international organizations such as professional associations, aid organizations, management consultancies, international banks, corporations, treaty organizations, universities, schools, and more, also find themselves explaining their “idea of America…” which usually is how they see the U.S. founder’s intent. And citizens too explain their “idea of America” as they travel… which is often described as “citizen diplomacy.”

All this adds up to confusion about whose idea of America matters most… and digital media revolutions have only added to this confusion. 

The current administration is challenging many fundamental ideas of America, including the generally understood “balance of power” framework, and the content of “soft power” diplomacy. This has led to the actual dismantling of much of the work of the state department, and therefore democracy itself.

Following the fall of the Nixon administration a system of inspector generals was created to monitor and put a stop to malpractice in government departments and institutions. This was intended to put more balance of power back into the system. But by firing four of these inspectors, and then declaring they all should be eliminated, the current president is gradually dismantling democracy and building his own autocracy.

This is what happens when extreme politics replaces statesmanship in governance. Democrats and Republicans simply must come together and stop this ongoing dismantling of our democracy.

A strong democracy requires strong institutions… AND empathetic leadership.

  1. Empathetic leadership only comes from studying those leaders who learned during crises how to describe the truth about what is happening while offering an inspirational vision for a better future when it’s finally resolved.
  2. Strong institutions are the bedrock of any democracy. Some are government institutions… such as the justice department, the CIA, or FBI. These institutions exist to provide essential research and information without political consideration to whoever occupies the White House.
  3. Some institutions exist in society as a whole, such as schools, universities, human services, international nonprofits, arts organizations, and church denominations, and these are also critically important for a functioning democracy.

But the truth of the matter is that the current administration has cut the budgets and staffs of most governmental institutions, as well as their support for those in society that are proud of their political independence. Governments focused mostly on winning elections will likely use social media and conspiracy rumors to distract and confuse, attack those who criticize (including mainstream news), blame others for what goes wrong, and use political extremes to divide people against each other.

What is needed now in America is a leader who will tell the truth about this current pandemic, use examples to show how people come together to find lasting solutions, and articulate an inspirational vision for a future that the entire country can easily rally around. It also seems obvious that any truly empathetic leader would be finding all the resources necessary to meet the needs of everyone on the front lines of healthcare, as well as those who have lost their jobs… or are losing their small businesses.

Only after everyone is led through this crisis with common cause will the economy really come back. And then, finally, it very likely will come back with “warp speed.” 

Freedom of speech gives us the right to protest and say whatever we are thinking. Many think this also includes the right to ignore current health warnings: I have the right to risk my health and go anywhere I want without a mask.

If risking one’s health threatens the health of others, what happens to the others’ rights? Doesn’t some kind of “hybrid” way forward seem necessary in situations like this? In other words, shouldn’t the idea of the “greater good”  take over? But for this there is an important requirement: A genuine leader who is transparent, empathetic, and trustworthy. Instead, sadly, we have a president thoroughly obsessed with his own re-election.

But, there is also one more big requirement: Our 24/7 digital world created  a permanent state of information-saturated confusion… a truth hiding daily mental fog which causes many people to reject expertise and align with political extremists who promise to take care of everything. And what’s more, we are learning that autocrats thrive in this kind of media-produced fog. It is therefore absolutely necessary that Internet consequences, and not just social media skills, be taught in schools and discussed in community groups all over the world. 

The DFW World Affairs Council will soon host a by-invitation webinar with four prominent ambassadors on how to revitalize and modernize American diplomacy and the U.S. Foreign Service. Below is my contribution to the agenda.

In four short months COVID-19 created a situation where public health, many businesses, education, government, and relationships around the world will need to be rethought and reactivated. 

Here are some questions related to diplomacy that must be answered:

  1. Looking ahead, what will be the proper role of U.S. diplomacy? Messaging will be critical. Diplomacy helps determine a nation’s brand-identity. Therefore should a media-savvy, strategic communication plan be a part of very early thinking?
  2. So will diplomacy’s primary role be to… explain the current administration’s policies; explain the basic “idea of America;” champion democracy everywhere; collect intelligence and do research; help resolve international issues; or to establish a strong presence in critically important countries with a professional staff that does all of these things? In other words, what are the specific action steps necessary to modernize diplomacy?
  3. Will “public diplomacy” have an important role to play in this modernization? Should the many international nonprofit organizations be involved in the planning? Should coordinating public diplomacy remain a part of the state department? If so, how should it be funded and structured? If not, do we need to establish a separate entity, much like the former U.S. Information Agency (USIA)?
  4. Will there be an important role for higher education to play? If so, how? 

We currently have a state department significantly reduced in size and influence, and a president who thinks he is all we need. If diplomacy should once again become an important part of American global leadership, we will need a complete change in thinking at the top.

And, reactivating many universities after the current pandemic will necessarily include reconnecting with international partners and relationships. Therefore, in many cases experts in all aspects of global leadership, cross-cultural understanding, education, media literacy, strategic communication, healthcare, energy, water, conservation, poverty, climate change, sciences, humanities, arts, engineering, politics, government, city management, and more, might already be in place.

Will colleges and universities come back as completely different institutions? Here is a list of possible changes some administrators are already considering: A freeze on new hires; reduction of benefits; elimination of programs and research projects; voluntary and involuntary salary reductions; merit raise freezes; closure of buildings; modifying fundraising expectations; specific uses of endowment funds; continued use of remote on-line technology for teaching and support staff; easing of admissions requirements; tuition freezes and reductions; mergers with other institutions; partnerships with community colleges; cutting travel for business and conferences; becoming more global through on-line interactions; planning for anticipated reductions in government underwriting, financial aid, and research; holding the entire fall semester on-line; cancelling fall completely and starting up again in 2021.

Can intercollegiate sports as we knew them be brought back? Here are some administrative worries: Filling stadiums when that revenue is required; reevaluating income potential from luxury suites, reserved parking, and premium seating packages; holding on to needed television and radio revenue; dealing with huge head coach and assistant coach salaries; finding alternatives to funding minor sports from major sports revenues; cancelling some sports temporarily, or completely; effectively utilizing first-class stadiums originally built to provide more income options, attract star athletes, and accommodate premium level donors; dealing with lingering COVID-19 fears; handling any continuing NCAA player and coach violations; recovering from a conference decision to cancel the fall season; considering the possibility of increasing public interest in club sports.

Specific vulnerabilities will determine each college’s fate. Some will survive major changes… and others might not.

  • taken from a scan of The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Education, University World News, and thoughts from my 50 year career in higher education.  

Truth in politics comes much the same way it does in teaching…

I never thought about it this way until graduate school. It was there I first realized that the really great teachers were actually “living their subject-matter,” and that this was the real appeal of a career in education. Students came in and out of their lives, but the best teachers were constantly growing and changing by living their subject-matter every day.

I found in my teaching that living my subject-matter meant getting lost in my own world of communication and media when and where students could engage with me. As I referenced the best experts and reflected on the consequences of media revolutions, new thoughts would magically pop into my head. Truth would therefore gradually come to us by constantly searching for it together.

In retirement, however, I now teach about media, communication and politics without a classroom. My students are the readers of my blog. My new ideas appear during walks, or while struggling for clarity. I read the experts, try every day to pull some truth out of the media fog, and continue to interact with individuals and small groups as I am able.

This is what I learned…

Finding truth in politics today requires searching the cluttered media everyday for bits and piece of it. Our task is to compile the pieces that make sense to us, realizing that our conclusions are likely to change as we go… just as they do in successful teaching careers.