Category Archives: Politics

A Transparency and Leadership Primer

OBAMA_PRESSOver at the AssociationsNow blog, Ernie Smith wrote a story about the White House Correspondents Association(WHCA) complaining about “transparency” and lack of access during the President’s recent golf vacation.  Ed Henry, the president of WHCA issued a protest statement.  “I can say a broad cross-section of our members from print, radio, online, and TV have today expressed extreme frustration to me about having absolutely no access to the president of the United States this entire weekend. There is a very simple but important principle we will continue to fight for today and in the days ahead: transparency.”

While “leadership transparency” is a worthy goal, it struck me as counterproductive to pick a public fight with the Press Secretary to the President of the United States.  It was made doubly awkward that Henry, who previously worked for CNN and C-SPAN currently works for the highly partisan Fox News Channel.  The White House Press Office fired back with a series of statements about the regular access the press enjoys with the President.  This all got me to thinking.  When it comes to staking out a public position, or pursuing an agenda for change what leadership lessons can be found here?

1. Pick the right spokesperson. When your organization stakes out a controversial position, be sure your spokesperson is not perceived as conflicted.  Pick your spokesperson carefully be sure they are credible and especially well informed.

2. Have your facts at the ready. While the White House Correspondents Association was quick to complain about access to the President, they offered no hard data to support their position.  The White House says the President has done 591 interviews, 104 with major news outlets. On average, that’s almost two interviews a week with reporters and one interview with major news outlet every two weeks since the President was elected in 2009.

3. Stick to the story. White House Correspondents Association President Ed Henry says it’s all about “transparency”.  He then goes on to say, “We’re not interested in the violating the president’s privacy. He’s entitled to vacations like everyone else.” So which is it? Transparency, access, the right to the President to take vacations or not wanting to violate the President’s right to privacy?  Keeping the WHCA’s message about what exactly they mean  by “transparency”  both clear and concise would have helped immensely.

4. Manage your member/customer/client and team’s expectations. See #2 above. While people may feel “extremely frustrated”,  it’s equally important feelings alone don’t drive your organization’s public relations or policy agenda.  Life is unfair, frustrating and occasionally boring.  Is that really the basis for a public spat on transparency?

We understand White House Correspondents would probably prefer to die of exhaustion than boredom in their line of work. Sitting around the Holiday Inn while the President of the United States vacations at the Floridian Golf Resort probably seems unfair to many reporters accustomed to regular access.  That said, allowing the President of the United States enjoy a few days vacation with friends hardly seems reason to launch a public relations outcry that ends up making your organization appear petty and ill-informed.

How Are Your Poll Numbers?

The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll of 1,000 adults taken between August 27-31, 2011 found that generally speaking 44% of Americans approve of the job President Obama is doing.  51% disapprove.  The other 5% aren’t sure.  The President’s poll numbers improve when respondents were asked about issues—his handling of foreign policy (50% approval) or Libya (46% approval).

What is absolutely certain is that generally 82% of these polled Americans disapprove of the job the United States Congress is doing.  Men and women alike.  Surely as the leaves changing color in fall, we can expect a new cycle of polling numbers in the months ahead as the Presidential election cycle heats up.  Some of those numbers may give us pause.  Some will reflect our own feelings.  Our perception after all is our reality.

What is more interesting in general is that many disdain polls in governing.  There is a notion that somehow, great leaders and their visions rise above the lowly poll.  Being your own person, setting your own course or hearing the beat of your own drummer is celebrated in American leadership.  Yet too many organizations are led by the tone-deaf leader—a person unable or unwilling to listen to those around them, hear the voice of the customer—or reflect on the data streaming their way to take meaningful actions in response.

How many times have you spoken directly with a customer in the past week?  Not the ones who have called you, but ones that you have personally dialed up for a conversation?  What are they telling you about your organization?  About your team?  What perceptions are your customers/clients/members sharing with you?  Even the President holds “town hall” sessions to gather ideas and insights.

So what questions are you asking to better understand where your organizations stands?   For example, asking someone, “Based on your experience, what could we do to improve our [product/service/quality] here?” may reveal some clear action steps.  Or try asking, “If you were in my shoes, how would you respond to this situation?”  Sometimes the simple act of asking someone to “tell you more” about a given situation or issue will yield significant value.

These personal conversations go far beyond what you might discern from a member research project, an educational event evaluation or a client satisfaction survey.  As a leader, your personal outreach and your willingness to listen—and to act—are paramount to understanding and bettering your own leadership “poll numbers”.  Time to get busy.

The Big Lie

“We have now got both parties essentially telling a big lie. With a capital ‘B’ and a capital ‘L’ to the public: and that is that we can have all this government, 24 percent of GDP, this huge entitlement program, all of the bailouts. And yet, we don’t have to tax ourselves and pay our bills. That’s delusional.” So said President Ronald Reagan’s Former Budget Director David Stockman in a shockingly candid interview with CBS’ 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl.


When asked why he was calling for the elimination of the Bush-era tax cuts,  Stockman said, “Well, we just can’t afford them. We couldn’t afford them when they were adopted in 2001 and 2003.  Since then, we’ve had two giant unfinanced wars, a huge bailout of Wall Street. This trillion-dollar stimulus program, and we have now created so much national debt, and such large permanent deficits that we’re going to have to do some very difficult and painful things to close the gap…”

Stockman, who masterminded one of the nation’s biggest tax cuts under President Ronald Reagan made a startling point, “In 1985, the top five percent of the households, wealthiest five percent, had net worth of $8 trillion, which is a lot.  Today, after serial bubble after serial bubble, the top five percent have net worth of $40 trillion,” he explained. “The top five percent have gained more wealth than the whole human race had created prior to 1980.”

The notion that somehow the American economy will dig itself out of the enormous economic hole dug by Republicans and Democrats alike without a significant tax increase for rich and poor seems increasingly unlikely.  In fact, Stockman pointed that a one-time 15% surtax on American’s richest citizens could cut the deficit in half in a single year.  Where there is political will there is a way.