Keep it simple, Obama
There's a lot of criticism in the air lately about Obama's message strategy. Today, Politico talks to Howard Dean, James Carville and other Democratic bigwigs about what Obama should be saying. Karl Rove criticizes the President's "scattershot approach" to messaging in today's Wall Street Journal, jumping between tax cuts, the economy, and John Boehner. And after Obama waded in on the mosque controversy with muddled commentary a few weeks ago, communications strategists sounded off on the president, going so far as to warn of the danger of an "incoherent presidency."
Ever since Kelly Johnson told engineers at Lockheed's Skunk Works program during WWII to "Keep it simple, stupid," there have been few more basic lessons in leadership. Repeating a handful of simple, well-honed concepts--ad infinitum, if need be--is both Leadership and Communications 101. As David Morey, vice chairman of a communications firm that provided advice to Obama's 2008 campaign, told CNN: "Simpler is better, and rising above these issues and leading by controlling the dialogue is what the presidency is all about."
No matter what your politics, it's hard not to see that the President is fighting a losing battle to control his message. The fragmented, fractured media is, of course, partly to blame, as Obama finds himself playing whack-a-mole to every manufactured 24-hour news drama that erupts from someone's latest Twitter message or blog post. As I wrote last week, there are times when he has to respond to the latest controversy to pop up, and times when he doesn't.
But Obama's message problem is about more than just deciding when he does and doesn't need to pick up the mallet. The themes he crafts for his own speeches and campaign stops need to be simplified and winnowed down. I can't count the number of leaders and leadership experts I've spoken to over the years who say three is the magic number of separate goals or ideas people can easily focus on at the same time. Then, repeat them. Over and over and over again. And then again.
The American presidency, or any leadership position, for that matter, cannot become a talking points memo to be successful. Nuance and subtlety have a place, and there are times when leaders must react off-script. But getting people to rally behind simple themes is one of the foundations of good leadership. The only way to get a diverse group of people with their own self-interested goals--of which there is no better example than the current Congress or, even, the American people--is to guide them forward with a few simply worded thematic goals. Yes, it's the economy, stupid. But keep it simple, too.
September 17, 2010; 11:02 AM ET |
Federal government leadership
Save & Share:
Previous: Warren's appointment: The pitfalls of compromise | Next: HP and its CEO woes
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: nobody2 | September 19, 2010 10:37 PM
Posted by: nobody2 | September 19, 2010 10:30 PM
Posted by: janet8 | September 19, 2010 9:18 PM
Posted by: joe100821 | September 19, 2010 7:19 PM
Posted by: thinker16 | September 19, 2010 4:55 PM
Posted by: VirginiaConservative | September 19, 2010 4:55 PM
Posted by: techresmgt | September 19, 2010 4:35 PM
Posted by: dougd1 | September 19, 2010 3:34 PM
Posted by: finsher771 | September 19, 2010 2:07 PM
Posted by: alance | September 19, 2010 1:06 PM
Posted by: RField7 | September 19, 2010 12:38 PM
Posted by: twm1 | September 19, 2010 12:27 PM
Posted by: glenglish | September 19, 2010 12:24 PM
Posted by: nychap44 | September 19, 2010 11:29 AM
Posted by: mlrice710 | September 19, 2010 11:11 AM
Posted by: Georgetowner1 | September 19, 2010 10:31 AM
Posted by: pauldia | September 19, 2010 9:50 AM
Posted by: JCM-51 | September 19, 2010 9:15 AM
Posted by: banicki | September 19, 2010 9:05 AM
Posted by: nychap44 | September 19, 2010 8:22 AM
Posted by: nychap44 | September 19, 2010 8:03 AM
Posted by: Utahreb | September 19, 2010 7:38 AM
Posted by: Parker1227 | September 19, 2010 5:52 AM
Posted by: JCM-51 | September 18, 2010 11:34 PM
Posted by: wturecki | September 18, 2010 10:57 PM
Posted by: kurttj2002 | September 18, 2010 10:08 AM
Posted by: 12345leavemealone | September 18, 2010 5:57 AM
Posted by: jimbobkalina | September 18, 2010 4:15 AM
Posted by: davidwatching | September 18, 2010 3:42 AM
Posted by: rimantas1 | September 17, 2010 10:49 PM
Posted by: robert17 | September 17, 2010 9:54 PM
Posted by: jcindy | September 17, 2010 8:28 PM
Posted by: vrytix | September 17, 2010 8:21 PM
Posted by: s2car | September 17, 2010 4:02 PM
Posted by: spk202 | September 17, 2010 3:22 PM
Posted by: be4fourty | September 17, 2010 1:51 PM
Posted by: Pellinore | September 17, 2010 12:56 PM
Posted by: zukermand | September 17, 2010 12:19 PM
Posted by: illogicbuster | September 17, 2010 12:18 PM
Posted by: cpameetingbook | September 17, 2010 12:17 PM
Posted by: over65havingfun | September 17, 2010 11:58 AM
The comments to this entry are closed.