Today we inaugerated the 44th President of the United States of America. Looming as a specter behind the inauguration speeches is the reality of a crippled economy. I watch the processions of powerful people sitting in the stands and I see many of the former Presidential candidates whose campaigns have faded into a distant memory. What is the return on investment for the tens of millions of dollars that were spent to embed their messages to the American People. Does anyone remember the central campaign slogans of Hillary Clinton? How about John McCain?
The essential role of a leader is to understand what needs to be done next. But knowing what to do is only part of the equation. Communicating how we do what is next is the leadership challenge. Regardless of a platform (what) I believe Barack Obama was inaugurated President today because he led a campaign (how) that understood the importance of communicating his message clearly and simply. For two years the American people heard one simple word … “Change.”
President Obama understood the noise of competing messages would drown out his voice. He tapped into the feelings of a majority of Americans who felt they had lost their voice in Washington to cronyism and partisan politics. He understood the importance of body language which was particularly evident in the little things like being photographed constantly with his shirt-sleeves rolled up. His message: Things would be different if he was elected. He would be a leader who would serve the people. He masterfully communicated his historical and cultural heritage at the Democratic convention in a video that showed his multi-racial family of origin in the Heartland. He was one of all of us.
This cultural messaging was louder than his position on the issue. Ultimately, he made people feel, "He understands me." And that is why he was elected President.
Effective leaders understand that everybody has a cultural framework they see the world through. Our experiential worldview shapes the values we draw to make decisions and to direct our actions.
One of my graduate school professors, Dr. Mike Rakes said in our lectures repeatedly last week, “Culture is what fills the space between us.” If you can understand someone’s worldview and cultural experiences, you can reach their heart, and lead deep change.