Language of Leadership: A lesson from the 2016 Election

Much will be said and written in coming days and years about the biggest presidential election upset the United States has seen since 1948.  Donald J. Trump, candidate is now Donald J. Trump, president elect. He even changed his famous Twitter page on Wednesday to reflect it.

How did it happen? Well, they say hindsight is 20-20 and I, as someone who thought Hillary Clinton would be America’s first female president, think I see much more clearly now.

Election 2016 will go down as the year when the Clinton Campaign discovered they were out of touch with the majority of Americans. Well, as it appears Hillary Clinton will actually win the popular vote, not the majority perhaps, but out of touch with enough Americans that it cost the party the deciding Electoral College vote.

There are a multitude of reasons, of course. But I think the difference in communications styles between the two candidates is one of the main reasons.

  • Hillary Clinton campaigned by the book. Donald Trump tore up the book.
  • Democrats bragged about how much Hillary Clinton studied and prepared for debates. Trump was more seat of the pants.
  • She provided detailed policies that bored the average voter. Trump had short slogans that they remembered: “Make American Great Again.” “Drain the Swamp.”
  • Democrats released lengthy policy papers.  Trump had one pagers and more slogans, “Build the Wall.”
  • Hillary Clinton appeared in photos with high-profile celebrities. Trump had Scott Baio and Stephen Baldwin and tweeted a photo of himself eating a taco bowl from Taco Bell.
  • Democrats had endorsements from major newspapers. Newspapers that many voters view as full of high-brow bullshit. Trump didn’t.
  • Hillary Clinton was measured, disciplined, studied, rehearsed, practiced.  She gave long involved answers.
  • Donald Trump used punchy sentences. Sometimes not even full-sentences. (Like that one-see what I did there?!)

From a communications stand-point, Democrats, long considered the party of unions, minorities, reproductive rights for women and the “little people” had become the party of the college-educated, the self-righteous, the deep-thinkers, the liberal lefties, the out-of-touch. The dreaded “Elite.”

Democrats messaged to the minds and intellect of the American people using facts and logic to bolster the reasons why Hillary Clinton should be elected president. But, excluding the genuine appeal of Michelle Obama, they didn’t use enough heart-felt emotion.

Research shows people make decisions based on emotion first. A-ha, you didn’t need me to tell you about the research part, though, did you? You know it’s true in your heart. And that’s a lot of what happened during this campaign.

Trump appealed to the hurting hearts and the gut of the American people. The weaker the economy, the stronger his vote.

Yes, he said offensive things. But when the Democrats or so-called “liberal,” media-folks pointed those gaffes out, they did so in logical ways – using college-level words like “misogynist” and well, “gaffe.” They simply didn’t connect with the lonely and marginalized rural voters or disaffected middle class or blue-collar workers whose jobs and dreams had disappeared and died.

I remember when my dad died, the neighbors in my hometown of Farmland, Indiana didn’t come over and say, “Hang in there, time will heal, we’ve got a ten-page grieving plan you need to listen to.” They cried too. They said they were sorry.

Democrats underestimated how hurting many of the people were. They were like know-it-all parents to unhappy, frustrated kids. The “eat your vegetables, they’re good for you“ kind of parent. The kind of parents that kids resent. The kind of parents that don’t get it. The kind that are out of touch.

I’m not literally saying that the electorate are children and the president is a parent, of course.  America’s president should be a leader. A leader who can knows how to connect.

With his name emblazoned jets and designer family and his no-teleprompter style of speech, Trump masterfully combined the American dream of attaining prosperity with the common touch.

His communications style touched a chord. He connected. And he will be moving into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in January.

Yes, he used inflammatory language and hopefully he will move away from that to the more statesman-like tones he used during his victory speech and after his first meeting with President Obama.

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The challenge and the opportunity, therefore, for Democrats and other would-be leaders, is to take a bit of one of the lessons from Election 2016. Don’t use negative language, of course, but get real. Get human. Use language your audience uses. Try to really focus on your audience’s perspective. What are their hopes, dreams and fears?  Consider those first and then build your message from there. Use your gut. Your heart.

Speak from the perspective of your audience– not above them.   That’s the language of leadership.

Kindly, Gina

I’m so grateful you are reading my essays. I train, consult and speak about the language of leadership. Please click ‘Follow’ (at the top of the page) and reach out to me directly to support you or your organization via LinkedIn, TwitterFacebook and at GinaLondon.com and Fuzion.ie

PS. Clearly, Trump must now put his short, pithy messages into action. Workable policy DOES have to happen after January 20, 2017. That remains to be seen. But the lesson about language and connecting with people is what, I believe, largely won him the election… now, don’t shoot the messenger… this one, I mean! Cheers.

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It’s Time to Build Bridges!

“The nation is at a critical point. At a time like this we can’t risk partisan bickering and political posturing. Our leaders have to reach across the party aisle to do the citizens’ work.”

Not the words of Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton.

Those were the words of Republican candidate for US president, Mitt Romney, during his 2012 concession speech in Boston.

And yet, four years later, our nation is at an even more critical point.

The world has watched as The 2016 United States Campaign Season unraveled into the most insulting, accusatory, vulgar, and divisive campaign ever.  It’s finally election day and the polls remain tight with Clinton clinging to a narrow lead.

The tight race reflects American voter emotions.

Disillusioned. Fed up. Frustrated. Many Americans are voting today in disgust of the Republican and  Democratic candidate. I’ve even heard some are tossing both aside and going for a write-in ballot:

“Help.”

As a political reporter for CNN, I covered one of the tightest presidential races in US history – that of Al Gore and George W. Bush.

After six weeks of legal wrangling over Florida’s hanging chads, the Supreme Court stepped in and declared Florida and its electoral college votes for Bush. Despite winning the popular vote, Gore lost the presidency.

He called his opponent to congratulate him and then he addressed the nation:

“For the sake of our unity as a people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession. I also accept my responsibility, which I will discharge unconditionally, to honor the new President-elect and do everything possible to help him bring Americans together in fulfillment of the great vision that our Declaration of Independence defines and that our Constitution affirms and defends.”

Today, as the election results are tallied. I pray that whoever wins and loses remembers that:

“We are one people with a shared history and a shared destiny.”

I hope tonight at New York’s Javits Convention Center where Hillary Clinton will be and at nearby the Hilton Hotel Midtown where Donald J. Trump will be, there is no talk of building walls.

Only of building bridges.

Kindly, Gina

Won for all and all for one.

The United States collectively lifted joyous voices and hands up high in celebration as the Chicago Cubs broke its 108-year “curse” – finally winning baseball’s World Series in extra innings over the Cleveland Indians.

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Even Indian supporters joined in, putting aside differences to come together for the good of the game.  People recognizing the unique skills, dedication and team work that was a part of realizing the victory.

Festive fireworks exploded throughout the Windy City.  Hundreds of “Cubs Win” banners painted with a single W, were waved.  It’s a time for collective merrymaking.

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As Game Seven neared, a news report showed hundreds of people spontaneously turning out to chalk words of encouragement on the famed brick walls of Wrigley Field.

“This is the year!”

“Let’s Go!”

“Believe.”

They wrote to share their special relationship with the Cubs.

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A team to root for and keep believing in for generations.

For at least three generations, the Cubs were a part of my family.  I was born in a town in northern Indiana that’s part of the American region known as “Chicagoland.”   During my youth, the TV at my maternal grandparents’ house seemed to be permanently tuned to baseball as I recall many a time hearing them cheering on their beloved Cubbies throughout their lives which ended, sadly, decades before this epic win.

I thought of my grandparents two summers ago, when, as a speaker for a large tech conference, we participants were all given a tour of the historic stadium home of the Cubs.  We were treated to free hotdogs, pretzels and beer and were encouraged to take to the field! There, I met Hall of Famer, Billy Williams, I hit a ball that was lightly lobbed toward me by a guest pitcher and I ran (okay jogged) to the base.

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Me hitting a ball at Wrigley Field, home of the 2016 World Series winners, the Cubs! 

Shh.  I even delicately (and secretly) walked into the outfield to caress the sacred ivy that climbs the back walls of Wrigley.  And although I freely admit I am not an ardent fan, it was a moving experience.

Because the experience made me realize, that even more than the Cubs of Wrigley Field, my grandparents were actually fans of the spirit of baseball. When I stopped and thought about it, I remember they often cheered on other teams too like the Chicago White Sox, or the Cincinnati Reds.

The spirit of the game can transcend team rivalries.

Maybe it can transcend even more than that.

For instance, the Cubs fans who collectively wrote on Wrigley’s walls may have been Democrats, Republicans or Independents. It didn’t matter.  They were unified to their commitment to the game.

Can’t the same be said for my country?

After all, the spirit of baseball is a spirit that is often listed as part of the America.  You know,

“Baseball, hotdogs and apple pie.”

On Election Day this Tuesday, when America turns out to the polls and a presidential winner is ultimately declared, can Americans commit to join together in celebration of our collective spirit?

Can we celebrate the spirit of America? For the freedom that too many died defending.  For the dreams that so many immigrated to its shores to seek.

Maybe we have been battered by this election season’s bitter rivalries. Maybe we have been abandoned by friends on Facebook or Twitter.  But surely, although tattered, we can still find a way to wave our united W banner.

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For the love of the game, and for we who love America even more than baseball, I hope after Election Day, we will proudly raise our joyous voices and hands high together and celebrate that other banner which signifies our collective principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Kindly, 

Gina