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Gini Dietrich

Leadership Lessons In Washington

By: Gini Dietrich | August 10, 2011 | 
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Let’s see. I’ve already talked about religion here, when I talked about how missions prepare Mormon men and women for leadership positions.

So why not talk politics, too?

Actually, I’ve been trying to find both communication and leadership lessons in what’s happening in Washington. Because I’m so disgusted by it all, it’s hard to separate the emotion from the business.

But I think I finally have it. And this is not about whose side of the fence you’re on. This is about both communication and leadership.

I live in Chicago. That immediately makes me an Obama fan. Even if you don’t agree with his politics, when he was elected, all of Chicago was on fire.

It was really fun living here that first year as they talked about where he and Michelle were eating and how they were spending their time when they came home.

We even rode our bikes, one Sunday afternoon, through Hyde Park to see the police surrounding his house, which is now a historical feature.

But what he did last week, for his 50th birthday, is not just astounding, it’s a poor lesson in leadership. And it’s a poor lesson in communication because we all know perception is reality.

Here is what I know:

So, in order to take the emotion out, I thought about this as if I were his on his communication staff. Let’s even say I’m the first person he turns to, when it comes to communication.

This is the conversation I would have with him:

Mr. President, I love birthdays. You know this because I announce my birthday right after the first of the year and I count down until it happens. I think everyone should celebrate their birthdays in the biggest way possible. BUT. If you have your party in Chicago, no matter the reality of your needing to raise money for your campaign, the perception will be that you’re above what the rest of the country is experiencing with the debt ceiling and the possibility our credit will be downgraded. I know it’s been a long time since you’ve had to pay college loans, but 95 percent of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. Small businesses don’t have cash hoarded. It’s time to step up, be a leader, and show what you’re made of. Show Americans you are willing to sacrifice with them. We can delay your party and have it in a few months, when things settle down.

Maybe that conversation did happen and he chose, instead, to go ahead with his party. Maybe it was too late to cancel the thing, when he realized Congress didn’t yet have a solution. But I know that if I were advising him and he didn’t take this advice, I’d resign.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

141 comments
Adam Boatsman
Adam Boatsman

Come on guys - the system is broken. Redistricting at the state level creates a culture that encourages creating 'safe seats' which really means you end up with fringe elements controlling both parties via the districts they set up. And since no one really likes controversy what happens when the politician goes home? They hear more of the same instead of a credible, balanced message. Television has only made it worse. What happened to the good old days of Tip O'Neil drinking with Ronald Reagan (I was encouraged to see that Scott Brown is training for a triathlon with John Kerry). Until either voter turn out improves OR we fix the redistricting system we will continue to have this issue.

Narciso17
Narciso17

I Have to Say That This Was Certainly an 'Error in Judgement' (and That's Certainly Putting It Lightly). I'm Just Disappointed That What Could've Been a Celebration Turned Into a Political Affair.

Regardless of Your Party Affiliation, It's Just Not Smart.

I Was Actually Talking About 'ROI' and 'Perceived ROI' With a Colleague - You Have to Make Sure That Your Audience's Perception of Something Great is Tangible and/or Something That They Can Brag About. Otherwise, You're Just Telling People That What They're Getting is 'Great' or of Value.

That's Like Being in School Where People Told You What to Think and How. We're Adults Now and We Have to *Believe* That What We're Getting is of Value.

MSchechter
MSchechter

You just love stepping in the controversial don't you @ginidietrich :)

It's an amazing point and it's depressing. Or better yet, take all those donations and put it towards the nations debt. Donate it to many of the programs that got cut. Not towards another horrible election that will just take us farther away from the one thing our nation needs... solutions.

debmorello
debmorello

Great discussion here! And once again @ginidietrich great post! I will just say this, I believe Obama's "leadership" style - or lack thereof - his, "management" style - or lack thereof - has been the strongest factor in creating a completely dysfunctional Congress. President Obama "enables" these maelstroms and because of his style brings out the worst dys-functionality in government. Bill Clinton was hands-on, very hands-on. Obama is not, at.all. This has cost him. No question in my mind, at the end of the day, politics and fundraisers aside, political persuasion aside - election or re-election campaigns aside - leave all that out of it for now and what do you have? A president who can't manage his team, a leader who is indecisive - show me any entity, company, organization, or corporation, let alone a country, that will succeed with those odds.

marianne.worley
marianne.worley

The lack of leadership (combined with very poor PR and marketing!) has left me dazed and confused. When times are tough, we want someone to understand our problems and do whatever it takes to help. In the past few weeks alone, I've seen multiple opportunities for real leadership, but no one stood up to seize it. All of our politicians are walking a balance beam--and they're afraid of making a big, bold move because they might not get re-elected. So they all continue to shuffle across slowly, leaving us to wonder if they even comprehend what's really happening outside their own little world. Tragic.

KevinVandever
KevinVandever

You're like the female version of Jerry Maguire, which, I guess, could still be Jerry...or maybe Jerri. Anyway, I think this could have been handled differently. I would have liked to have seen a scenario much like @bobledrew 's example. Tell us he's having the party and why he is having the party. Let the public know that he knows what we all might be thinking and put those concerns to rest. As you and Bob have both stated, that would have shown strong leadership. Maybe he could have made that speech AT his party and finished it by slamming a shot of Patron. Who's going to question THAT?

FranchiseKing
FranchiseKing

Gini,

I'm not mad at all about him having a fancy Birthday Party. Really.

I'm mad at him because it seems that he just doesn't have any. He needs to grow some. But, it may be too late for that.

Our country is a mess. He's never out in front of things. He's always behind things. He doesn't really make too many decisions. He tells others to figure it out. It's not working.

The folks on the Right are Wrong. The rich folks they're protecting need to step up and contribute more in the way of taxes. Not a lot more. Just a little.

And the Pres needs to be laser-focused on jobs. He's only 2 years late on that.

The best TV news/talk show by far is on from 7Am till 9 Am. @MorningJoe is the best.

I know that Obama and his team watch it. It's just that they won't listen to the intelligent suggestions made there every morning. From both sides. The answers are there.

Our President seems to be in way over his head. With everything. The economy. The wars. The Republicans.

He needs to call back Congress right now. They're on a 30 day vacation? That's insane with what's going on.

When he gets them back, he needs to tell them how things are going to be from now on. it's gotta be his way or the highway. he can do it. After all, lots of them on both sides want to be re-elected...so they can keep their perks..their power.

And I really don't care if he's re-elected or not. I just want to be led. By a leader.

My site's down right now, but I wrote a piece on what's going on, too. It's titled "Rudderless." Maybe you can stop be and read it.

http://thefranchiseking.com/rudderless

The Franchise King®

bobledrew
bobledrew

Here's an alternative scenario:

"Some people are criticizing the fact that I'm going to have a birthday celebration this week, with all the troubles in our economy. I can see their point. But let me tell you a few things. Whatever the troubles are in our economy, we are the United States of America. We are going to better the situation. We're going to work together to rebuild the economy and the system. Some people think I shouldn't have a party because there are people in difficulty. Let me tell you why I'm having this party. I believe that there's work that needs to be done in the government. Changes need to be made. Naturally, I think I'm the one to make those changes. I look at my colleagues across the floor, and I don't think they're the ones to protect Americans and to help bring our economy around. To do that -- I need money. The Republican Party will be raising every dollar it can to get me out of office. If I thought we'd do better with a republican in the White House, I'd step aside myself. I could sacrifice this party. I could walk away from it. But I may well be sacrificing what I think is the best opportunity to bring our nation out of its troubles. So I will celebrate my birthday. And I will continue celebrate the good things that America has given me, and given all of you. And once the party is over, I will be back at work, doing what needs to be done, and in a better position to do it."

TheBDHill
TheBDHill

@c_pappas Do you think it was anymore/less than previous POTUS? I'd be curious to see the numbers

C_Pappas
C_Pappas

Im sick to my stomach! I know we - most of us - are guilty of over-indulging these past few years which is one of the reasons everything is going downhill so fast, but as the rest of us tame our spending, why are some of us so above it? Well, on the bright side, if he is so rich then he will end up getting taxed the most :)

JoelFortner
JoelFortner

Thought-provoking post for me today. I have so many thoughts but I'll keep them to myself. And no the thoughts have nothing to do with politics or political persuasion. =)

JessicaNorthey
JessicaNorthey

PS if I were president I would have had my birthday at a strip club with hot wings and cold beer...that would have been tops! (sorry Congressman Pedro took over)

JessicaNorthey
JessicaNorthey

WOW Gini! very very powerful and well written. After reading this I am kind of angry with Obama. I was starting to like him but this made me sick to my stomach.

It's such a strange world we live in. So much to worry and wonder about. The future leadership scares me. I was a PoliSci major in college and have lost hope in political leaders.

Honestly... think we need to say to hell with Politicians and vote for an Accountant in 2012...whaddaya think about that? cc @ginidietrich

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@MSchechter I really thought about whether or not to write this and I just couldn't get it out of my brain. So yeah, I like stepping in the controversial if I believe really strongly in one side of the argument. And, I think the reason it bothers me so much is because we're so far in debt and had to RAISE the ceiling. Yet money is abundant. Just not in the bottom 99 percent of the U.S.

SoloBizCoach
SoloBizCoach

I completely agree @debmorello . When President Obama first took office, a vast majority of Americans truly hoped that he would bring a new tone to Washington (that was his promise). But, beginning with the healthcare bill, he allowed Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to control the bill. He did not lead the debate. We saw the same thing last week with the debt ceiling debate. Every time there is a big issue he shrinks from leadership role.

barryrsilver
barryrsilver

@debmorello@ginidietrich Deb, I couldn't disagree with you more. As a politician Barack Obama already beat all other politicians and will stay the #1 politician until a women is elected President and only then does the discussion even start. As a leader he constantly has both edges screaming at him for never ever doing enough. When both fringes are screaming he most likely is governing from the middle. As an achiever he has personally disappointed me with almost every piece of major legislation for not being enough of a liberal. As an objective observer, he is a master. He got HCR passed, 1st brought up by President Truman, I believe. When he gave in to the Bush tax cuts in December and I would have torn out my hair if I had any. Immediately after that bill passed he got SALT through, DADT repealed and 1 other major piece. 1 for 3 while the wolves howl is pretty good. This debt ceiling raise capitulation is a poop sandwich for all. He mentioned SS, Medicare and Medicaid and I rent my garments. In the end, the New Deal stayed intact and defense was cut (small but a start). If the ensuing circle jerk super committee fails to reach a plan (any bets?) the cuts will be deep. But again defense gets nicked and the New Deal remains intact and the Bush tax cuts expire. Check, Checkmate.

I don't go for this playing chess while all other are playing checkers garbage. Given the current climate, he's been masterful, evidenced by what he gets and all call him weak.

Sorry for going wonkie on you and posting instead of commenting. Tune in tomorrow when I go after the whores at S & P.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@marianne.worley Guess what? They're not going to be re-elected anyway. I would not be surprised if our country doesn't just do a clean sweep of everyone.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@FranchiseKing So when I said this was about leadership and communication and not politics... :)

I want to be led, too. By a leader. Yes, we in fierce agreement on that one.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@bobledrew You know what? If he said that, I'd be perfectly happy with it. THAT is leadership. I think he should hire both of us. We can give him opposing views and let him choose. But he'd come out a leader in both situations.

Great to hear your voice today!

C_Pappas
C_Pappas

@TheBDHill No clue on that one! I honestly dont follow politics because I hate to hear about things like this.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@C_Pappas Oh he won't get the money. I don't really care about the money (though I can't fathom spending that much on a dinner). What I care about is the perception of the leader of our country.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@rachaelseda I only want to be President so Secret Service has to ride their bikes with me!

Adam Boatsman
Adam Boatsman

@ginidietrich Dietrich, cough, can't expect leadership from a system that isn't capable of producing leaders, cough. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerrymandering, cough. I'm sure at some point you told me not to discuss politics, D'oh! Time to settle down w/a nice beer and get my opinions yelled at me by Hannity and Olberman!

MSchechter
MSchechter

@ginidietrich I actually thought it was fairly measured as far as political posts go. Couldn't help but tease you about it :)

Money is abundant, unfortunately our willingness to take from those who have it in abundance isn't...

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@barryrsilver@debmorello And here I wanted this to be not about politics, but about leadership and communication.

From a leadership perspective, I lead very hands off. Sometimes it costs me because people need direction. That's a weakness of mine. But I also would not want to work for someone who was hands-on so I fight trying to stay in the middle.

I don't know which is the right way...is it, like Barry said, somewhere in the middle so both sides are screaming at you?

debmorello
debmorello

@barryrsilver@ginidietrich

Barry, I will applaud anyone going after the rating agencies. Please tell me you have seen "Inside Job"... with as many times as I have a debate or discussion about the economy - particularly with people who choose to believe that our current state of affairs is because of this administration, that everything crashed the minute Obama stepped into the White House - I refer to the Oscar-winning documentary and I get no response. It seems no one has seen it. Anyone needing an explainer,or a good history lesson in U.S. economic policy history should see this film. The name of the film is appropriate - it aptly explains the chronology of policies, changing of policies, legislation, Supreme Court rulings, deregulation, Federal Reserve Bank decisions ... since Reagan. Including, how the rating agencies gave over-inflated ratings to those infamous "mortgage-backed" securities - and when the rating agencies were forced to downgrade the zillions of dollars of 'crap securities' so fell the house of cards... hence "inside job" - this was a "bi-partisan" effort for years of unfettered, unchecked, greed (in the name of capitalism) dating back to the Savings + Loans crisis. So, certainly the country and the world, was riding high on the hog. And most everyone in the country believes they were doing "so well" in those times.

Now, as for President Obama's leadership style ... I stand by what I said. I do not believe he is "weak", but I do not believe his style worked in the debt bill debate, for sure.

I look forward to your S+P rant ;-)

barryrsilver
barryrsilver

@ginidietrich@debmorello Deb, My apologies last few days been crzy, hoping to get to MD this wknd, not ignoring you.

G- Sorry. I too try to stay away from politics in this arena. I have an open political agenda and try and keep said agenda in the proper forums. As for Obama leadership, it's hard to evaluate because it's like a glacier, 90% below the surface (same for all presidents). As for his communications, he's trying to play the rational middle which is most unappealing. Mr. Rogers also lost his mass appeal past the age of 6. I'm not sure why he Obama doesn't have Jr. officers doing his heavy lifting. As for you, I don't think digital media/pr (and the other things you do I don't know about) can't be successfully run under tight reins. It happens too quickly. Press 1 wrong button and you wind up resigning from Congress (Politics, sorry). As I'm sure your figured out, you can't teach people to see completely with your eyes. You must delegate to those whose vision you are willing to accept.

debmorello
debmorello

@ginidietrich@barryrsilver Thanks Gini! Hard to stay away from politics - as hard as I tried :) I would tend to agree with the 'somewhere in the middle' however I don't believe his leadership style has been in the middle. I should clarify, when I say 'hands on' I don't mean micro-managing. I agree with you on that point, I've had both micro-managing and very hands off. I have had one excellent manager in 20 plus years. He was a natural - I don't think instinct can be taught, He was engaged - he communicated well with 'everyone' and never micro-managed. His style had a way of inspiring everyone - no matter what their position, or what level. So, yes, he's managed to get both sides screaming at him... and at each other, as a result it seems (at least to me) it has only brought out the worst of partisanship.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Leadership Lessons in Washington – Since I just returned from D.C., I thought it only fitting to share Gini Dietrich’s compelling post about President Obama’s choice to have an expensive fundraising dinner for his 50th birthday. I’m not one to talk about politics here, and this post really isn’t about that. Instead, Gini used this post to talk about leadership and communication. It’s great read and the comments are fantastic too. […]