Gini Dietrich

Leadership Lessons In Washington

By: Gini Dietrich | August 10, 2011 | 
178

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.

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178 Comments on "Leadership Lessons In Washington"

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geoffliving
geoffliving
4 years 8 months ago

He has lost his soul, so to speak. We became me, which became removed, and distant from the common man. In essence, the man has succumbed to the game.

PenPointer
PenPointer
4 years 8 months ago

Such great advice — and not JUST for the leader of the free world. Sure wish you were the first one he turned to for communication advice. In fact, maybe I’ll forward your name to someone in the White House … assuming you want to take a big pay cut.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 8 months ago

@PenPointer And work even more than I do now…which kind of seems impossible but know it’s true.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 8 months ago

@geoffliving I know. It makes me sad. Of course, we don’t know what goes on behind closed doors or what kind of advice he’s getting, but I do know perception is reality…and the reality of his party during the week of all of this happening is ill-timed.

NancyD68
4 years 8 months ago

I would have suggested to him to donate the money to charity to save face. Having such a lavish party with what is going on in our country makes you look like an egomaniac.

The best way out would be for him to help his hometown. What more gracious act than to donate the whole wad of money to various charities?

I love birthdays too.

PS – My boyfriend and President Obama have the same birthday. Just saying.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 8 months ago

@NancyD68 He needs to raise the money for his campaign. I get that. I just think the timing of doing it was really ill-timed. And let’s be real, a bunch of celebrities aren’t going to pay $35,800 to go to a party if it doesn’t help them in some way. If he were to donate the money, they’d just donate it themselves to their own charities.

NancyD68
4 years 8 months ago

@ginidietrich It would make him look like a hero to donate at least some of it though. Either that, or cancel the party altogether, and have beer and hot dogs just with the members of his inner circle. He really looks bad for this, and didn’t this also make driving around near impossible for you?

jeffespo
4 years 8 months ago

@ginidietrich@geoffliving It is Washington after all and should any of us be surprised? If you recall one of the more famous books from a recent political figure was called Spin Cycle. And Geoff your comment, this post and the party make me think that sooner or later there will be a London situation stateside.

Nic_Cartwright
4 years 8 months ago
What is clear the world over is that there is the ‘Real world’ where most of us live, and there is the world in which our ‘leaders’ (government/political/corporate) live. You very rarely get to see inside this ‘other world’ – but when you do – it generally scares the beejeezus out of us….(The Movie ‘Inside Job’ is Halloween/Freddie/Paranormal Activity all rolled into a very scary one…) When Obama came to office (yes over in Edinburgh I was up watching and cheering) – it felt like the tide had a chance to turn. Sadly, that tide has not turned and continues… Read more »
KenMueller
4 years 8 months ago
This might be one of my favorite posts ever. And partly because of the bipartisan nature. If it weren’t Obama, you could interchange the name of just about any politician in there, regardless of party or philosophy. There are very few politicians who would have heeded your advice, Gini. And that’s what is sad. This is business as usual in DC (and in every state capital, etc), and despite the fact that this happens time and time again, they never seem to heed the lessons of the past. This WILL happen again. As will the Rep. Anthony Weiner situation. And… Read more »
geoffliving
geoffliving
4 years 8 months ago

@jeffespo@ginidietrich There is no small irony that both Obama AND the Tea Party got elected to change Washington, and instead they have become embroiled in its worst practices.

jeffespo
4 years 8 months ago

@geoffliving@ginidietrich Both are polarizing and hopefully it is a wake-up call for BAU Washington where a good group can come in and stay for a term or just to offer an alternative to the broken system that we have.

HowieSPM
HowieSPM
4 years 8 months ago
I agree with the message is really bad. I dealt with this in California as they were sliding into financial oblivion. It was all Arnold’s fault. It still is Arnold’s fault. 1] Arnold get’s elected the state has a $98bil budget and a $14b short fall. 2] Arnold flies to NYC invites the banks that want to float debt for us to meet with him. The cost? $250k a head to sit at the table that went to his re-election fund. 3] The Economist compares debt issues with Illinois and Florida who issued less debt at better rates. Surprised? 1]… Read more »
HowieSPM
HowieSPM
4 years 8 months ago

@NancyD68@ginidietrich we need to end money in politics and make all races publicly funded. Tell them here is your pool of cash and good luck. You get no more and you can spend no more. Make them galvanize volunteers who knock on doors.

connectyou
connectyou
4 years 8 months ago
@ginidietrich , Good post! While I’m not an Obama fan, I can appreciate and respect those that are, and can be objective in approach. Your conversation words are dead-on, and I too would do the same as you – resign. Regardless of who I supported or what party I belonged to. I’ve already received my letter that in 2014 my Social Security account will be bankrupt. I paid into that fund, and I continue to pay. I find it offensive that at such a time the President of our country would have a party with the ticket price exactly at… Read more »
EricaAllison
4 years 8 months ago
They are all behaving like three year olds (I’m quite in tune to that age range) when they play peek a boo or simply close their eyes and truly believe no one can see them. We do in fact see you, Mr. President, and every other elected official who chooses to believe they are either invisible or above the same rules and constraints that the very people they govern have to live within. As a poli sci junkie and major, I love this post and I also wonder where the heck the communication/PR team is in this mix and if… Read more »
EricaAllison
4 years 8 months ago

@connectyou@ginidietrich Keri, once you either hold office, or are intimately familiar with it as you are, you do see things many others don’t. I have worked on numerous campaigns as the manager and the communications ‘girl’ and am always amazed at what really occurs behind the scenes.

Like you, I find that dollar amount for the party offensive. Well said.

jgangwish
jgangwish
4 years 8 months ago

The Tea Party is polarizing because they are finally standing up to what is wrong in Washington. The Beltway insiders don’t like it and all the spin in D.C. is that they are doing us harm. Spin Sucks! Just sayin’. @geoffliving

EricaAllison
4 years 8 months ago

@KenMueller Sad, but true, Ken. It will happen again. How did we get so off track? The system is indeed broken and while I’d like to think it’s not beyond repair, don’t have a clue how it can be “fixed.”

KenMueller
4 years 8 months ago
@EricaAllison Well, in all reality, the solution is…wait for it….”change”. And we tried that last time. And we got…change..: we need new blood in Washington. Not just a little; a lot. And while I’m sure that most political newbies go in with great ideas and a true desire to make change, the system quickly takes hold and political survival hinges on going with the status quo. So you may go in with great ideals, but you get corrupted quickly. And this is why I would never vote for @ginidietrich if she ever ran for office. If we think she’s unbearable… Read more »
KenMueller
4 years 8 months ago
@EricaAllison Well, in all reality, the solution is…wait for it….”change”. And we tried that last time. And we got…change..: we need new blood in Washington. Not just a little; a lot. And while I’m sure that most political newbies go in with great ideas and a true desire to make change, the system quickly takes hold and political survival hinges on going with the status quo. So you may go in with great ideals, but you get corrupted quickly. And this is why I would never vote for @ginidietrich if she ever ran for office. If we think she’s unbearable… Read more »
ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 8 months ago

@jgangwish@geofflivingjeff esposito Now, now. I don’t want this to be a political discussion. I want it to be about leadership and communication.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 8 months ago

@jgangwish@geofflivingjeff esposito Now, now. I don’t want this to be a political discussion. I want it to be about leadership and communication.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 8 months ago

@jgangwish@geofflivingjeff esposito Now, now. I don’t want this to be a political discussion. I want it to be about leadership and communication.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 8 months ago

@NancyD68 I agree canceling it and having an intimiate party is exactly what he should have done, from a leadership perspective. And YES! I was so miffed that night because they were letting people get on Lakeshore Drive, but you couldn’t get off. It took me an hour and 40 minutes to drive five miles.

jgangwish
jgangwish
4 years 8 months ago

@geofflivingjeff esposito Okay, okay. I will stand down. :) Appreciated your bi-partisan comments!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 8 months ago

@Nic_Cartwright It’s easy for me to sit here and watch it all from the outside and know what I would say, if invited to say it. But I’m not sitting in those meetings and I don’t know what the bigger picture is. But what I do know is having a party that lavish the same week we nearly hit the debt ceiling is bad, bad leadership.

jeffespo
4 years 8 months ago

@ginidietrich@jgangwish@geofflivingjeff esposito At the end of the day Washington is bad at communications. And if you want us to start lobbying, I will print Gini for Secretary of Communications pins right away. And will deliver one to you next month.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 8 months ago

@KenMueller And really, it could fit for any leader. I liken this (and I think I said it in a comment on @geoffliving blog) to my asking everyone on my staff to take a pay cut and then going and buying myself a yacht. What? You don’t have money because I cut your pay? Well, that’s not my problem.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 8 months ago

@KenMueller@EricaAllison Don’t worry…I have no political aspirations.

Wait. I take that back. I have political aspirations just so Secret Service has to ride their bike with me and be embarrassed that a girl beat them every day.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 8 months ago

@KenMueller@EricaAllison Don’t worry…I have no political aspirations.

Wait. I take that back. I have political aspirations just so Secret Service has to ride their bike with me and be embarrassed that a girl beat them every day.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 8 months ago

@jeffespo@jgangwish@geoffliving LOL! Yes, I’d like one next month!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 8 months ago

@jeffespo@jgangwish@geoffliving LOL! Yes, I’d like one next month!

KenMueller
4 years 8 months ago

@ginidietrich@EricaAllison Do we really want to see burly SS guys in spandex???

KenMueller
4 years 8 months ago

@ginidietrich@EricaAllison Do we really want to see burly SS guys in spandex???

KenMueller
4 years 8 months ago

@ginidietrich@geoffliving Definitely. I worked at a NYC nonprofit for 13 years where we were on pay freezes for quite a few of those years. But that didn’t happen at the top, because goodness knows, the President of the organization has to be compensated for all the good he is doing! (like…not raising enough money??) He continued purchasing his handmade Italian suits, being driven to work in a limo, etc. .Needless to say, morale in that place was always very low.

Wait. You have a yacht?

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 8 months ago
@HowieSPM OK. So nancy davis said the same thing. So let me ask you this. If you have a friend running for office and you are rich and you donate to your own charities all the time. If you attend his birthday party, donating money to his re-election campaign and, instead, he turns around and donates that money, how does that make you feel? Because, trust me, he’s coming back to you and asking for another $35,800 later for his campaign. I don’t think that’s the right answer. I think the right answer is canceling the party, making it known… Read more »
rustyspeidel
rustyspeidel
4 years 8 months ago

@EricaAllison@KenMueller the problem is congress would have to vote on any reforms to their way of life. the likelihood of that happening is less than zero, even though it’s exactly what they need to do. removing the financial influences of special interests and re-election BS are core to change here, and they’ve actually made it EASIER to contribute now, not harder.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 8 months ago

@KenMueller I said “liken.” (no, not yet)

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 8 months ago

@rustyspeidel@EricaAllison@KenMueller Um, communication and leadership, please (cough, cough).

rustyspeidel
rustyspeidel
4 years 8 months ago

@ginidietrich@KenMueller as opposed to lichen.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 8 months ago

@connectyou My husband, until last year, ran campaigns. So, like you, I see things many people don’t see. And sometimes I will actually say, at a dinner party or fundraiser, “why can’t you do it this way?” Needless to say, I’m not very popular and I don’t tend to go to many of those events. But, let’s take politics out of it. This could be any leader, right?

KenMueller
4 years 8 months ago

@rustyspeidel@ginidietrich ah…just like the old phrase: A rolling Gini gathers no lichen

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 8 months ago

@EricaAllison It’s hard to tell if a) they aren’t smart enough to offer this kind of advice, b) they’re providing it but no one is listening, c) they’re too intimidated to say anything, or d) there is a larger play here that we don’t know about.

I don’t see you as a politician. I’ll give you my view on them sometime…verbally. :)

NancyD68
4 years 8 months ago

@ginidietrich@KenMueller@EricaAllison I would TOTALLY knock on doors to see that happen.

wabbitoid
4 years 8 months ago

What would I have advised him to do? Go to a suburban ChuckECheese and found kids who he shared a birthday with. Then play a round of Skee-Ball with ’em. Talk to the gathered reporters about the next generation and/or what life was life in America when he was 10.

John Falchetto
4 years 8 months ago

I think he feels the show must go on. In his case the campaign is the show and it needs funding. There will always be something, the debt, unemployment, a crazy shooter who kills a bunch of innocent people, homeless people, so when is a good time?

Will things really settle down in a few months?

When was the last time small businesses had cash to throw at 40K plates dinner parties? He isn’t talking to them he is looking at the fat cats he bailed out and saying ‘payback time’.

hackmanj
4 years 8 months ago

@ginidietrich@EricaAllison “I’ll give you my view on them sometime…verbally. :)”

Now there is a conversation I would enjoy to be a part of, privately of course! Hah. :)

LauraPetrolino
4 years 8 months ago
So, this is a topic I need to be careful getting into because it is one of those that can through me into endless rants that result in my throwing stuff across my office…but… I started my career in politics working in fundraising and communications, so I’ve seen all sides of the spectrum on this one. The issue you bring up here is a common one and really comes full circle as to many of the problems our country is facing. Our politicians and a good deal of their top advisors (and the longer they are in office, the worse… Read more »
EricaAllison
4 years 8 months ago

@hackmanj@ginidietrich You and me both, Joe! :)

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