Today’s post was written by Whitney Sweeney, Director of Client Relationships at The Latimer Group
At The Latimer Group, we teach the importance of leadership communication. To be a leader people will want to follow, you must know how to deliver your message in a way that people will hear and internalize. You must be able to listen to others and treat them with respect. A strong leader carefully considers how and when to communicate, and how they want to make people feel.
Here in Connecticut, the critical relationship between strong leadership and effective communication is on full display as we near the election of our Governor, but not for the right reasons. With just a few days before Election Day, the latest polls have the two candidates effectively tied. This is the critical moment – the score is tied and time is running out. Now is when strong leadership counts, and that requires effective communication. But as many of us who have watched the debates and followed the race of late have witnessed, effective communication has been replaced with mudslinging from both sides. Rather than communicating a message of substance – one that addresses the economy, or taxes, or developing business, or any other critical issue – the candidates make attacks on each other’s alleged corruption, past arrests, or the size of their boats. In other words, they have forgotten how to communicate effectively.
As we approach Election Day next week, many people will be asking the same question: “Who is the right person to lead this state?” One candidate will win and one will lose, but here at The Latimer Group, we wonder: What would have happened if these leaders remembered the importance of effective communication and its critical significance in being a strong leader?
Whitney Sweeney joined The Latimer Group in 2008 as one of its first full-time employees, now serving as Director of Client Relationships. Whitney coordinates all aspects of our coaching and training workshops and manages the production of content on behalf of The Latimer Group. Whitney received her BA in psychology from the University of Vermont in 2005, and is a resident of West Hartford where she lives with her husband and her dog Jack.
Photo by Greg McMullin used under the following license.
While I agree that political attack ads are tiresome and of little positive substance, by the same token because there is so little time in a TV spot or mailer to get one’s points across, powerful sound and sight bites must be employed, and often a negative message is more powerful and attention-getting than a positive one.
To elaborate on their positions and ideas (and get in a few shots at their opponent, candidates use their stump speeches and debates; but advertising is a different animal. The people who run the campaigns are experts in political advertising, and for more than half a century the proof has been in the pudding that attack ads work well to sway undecided voters and energize a candidate’s base. All advertisers run ads that work the best to induce their target audiences to believe their claims and buy their products and services. Political campaigns are no different; attack ads work with voters, so we can’t entirely blame the political candidates.
There have been some departures from this norm that have been successful, but they seem to be anomalies: Dwight Eisenhower used ads that recorded his public appearances in which he answered voters’ questions; Bill Clinton chose to spread his message by appearing on TV talk shows and MTV to reach voters, especially young voters; Barack Obama effectively used the stump speech to spread his positive message of hope among local audiences and social media to win young voters. Certainly those methods exemplify leadership.
In general, though, voters seem to lean toward the candidate that effectively demolishes his or her opponent rather than explains his or her own positions clearly. And because people are busy and often have short attention spans, more potential voters are going to watch a 30 or 60-second ad or read a flier rather than watch a debate or stump speech.
In a few situations, attack ads have little affect or the opposite effect. For example, Ronald Reagan was so popular that attack ads on him did not work well. And, on the flip side, Reagan’s “Bear” campaign ad was so murky that many voters didn’t understand it.
But, by and large voters seem to validate the use of political attack ads and the old adage that “nice guys finish last.”