Garrison Wynn
Speaker, Consultant, Author

Garrison Wynn

Founder of Wynn Solutions, this keynote speaker is a former stand-up comedian and author of "The Real Truth About Success


Polluting your talent

Q: In a remarkable reversal of fortune, D.C. mayor Adrian Fenty was solidly defeated in his quest for a second term, after a landslide victory four years ago. Many voters liked the changes in the city; they just didn't like Fenty. How important is personality in the quest for success? Are good ideas and an ability to get things done enough?

People consistently choose charm over substance. In the case of former D.C. mayor Marion Barry, they apparently choose charm over substance abuse! If you can become the mayor, get caught smoking crack, do some time and still get re-elected, clearly your charisma has more power than your actions.

These days it's all about how you come off on camera. If you look at the older videos of Fenty, you'll notice he is filled with a get-it-done, semi-charming "All About Results" persona that caused us to believe he was on the job. Later videos show his on-air presence unfortunately disintegrated into a style that communicated "I'm too busy to worry about people because I'm so results-focused" -- and it cost him the election.

It might have been a subtle transition to him, but it seemed obvious to those around him that his success was creating complacency. To draw a parallel in the entertainment world (and if we're being honest, politics and entertainment aren't worlds apart), some actors who achieve a certain level of success become unwatchable after receiving great praise or winning an Emmy or Academy Award. There are comedians who become unfunny after they start landing movie deals. It's like your ego is polluting your talent and you're the last person to see it!

Success is also about looks and style. Can you name any really ugly candidate who won a presidential election in the TV era? Michael Dukakis looked like one of the Muppets, and Robert Dole looked like freeze-dried Dukakis!

When was the last time we elected a president who was less charismatic than the candidate he defeated? Richard Nixon? He lost to Kennedy and won against the only person less interesting than he was: George McGovern. George Bush the younger? He won against a weirdly agitated and robotic acting Al Gore and a very boring John Kerry, who had an inability to deliver a TV sound bite and bore a striking resemblance to Lurch from The Addams Family!

Look at the Clintons; there is no way that Hillary could win and no way that Bill could lose. Mrs. Clinton was poised and presidential but lacked likeability on camera. She seemed like she was on the verge of reaching out and slapping someone for not sitting up straight. And, in contrast, I suspect Bill Clinton could win again if he ran in 2012.

As I have said before, people don't choose what's best; they choose what they are the most comfortable with, whether it's the best or not. If there was one definable "best," everyone would choose that and nothing else would be considered. Decision making doesn't work that way.

Consequently, how you present yourself and your ideas is more powerful than who you really are and what you can actually contribute. Unfortunately, the old saying "It's not what you say; it's what you do" has consistently proven to be untrue. It is, in fact, very much about what you say, how you say it, and the time in history when you say it.

We don't have a lot of accomplishment checklists lying around from the past, but we seem to still be motivated by a lot of 2,000-year-old quotes from people who were considered compassionate in their time because they only moderately tortured their servants.

Most people can't really track your efforts and measure your success, but they will listen to what you say on television. And if it's said well and at the right time, and it's what people want to hear, you have great influence and power.

On the other hand, you can be a person who gets things done and creates real change in the world but who comes off badly on camera, and they will give someone more charming the credit for your accomplishments. This Vince Gray who defeated Fenty comes off as more caring and competent. Time will show us that he will be credited for what Fenty did well and distance himself from any mistakes of the previous regime. It's not personal; it's just politics!

The ugly truth is that being good at what you do is not good enough to win! The most popular people on earth have effective personalities that match the mood of the masses at a particular time. As disturbingly simple as it sounds, anything that is decided by votes is by its very nature a popularity contest.

By Garrison Wynn  |  September 20, 2010; 12:40 AM ET  | Category:  Making change Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Personal appeal | Next: Skills, not schools


Please report offensive comments below.

James Freeman Clark, a preacher and author the 1800's once said "A politician thinks about the next election - a statesman thinks about the next generations".

It sounds like Fenty was too wrapped up in making his city a better place to campaign as strongly as his opponent, and people forgot who he was and became wrapped up in what is now D.C.'s new mayor.

Posted by: NateYencha | September 23, 2010 10:54 AM
Report Offensive Comment

I agree. I think my own personality has made the difference both ways throughout my life. I have an ability to make things happen with the right words and attitude. I also, equally am capable of making things "unhappen" when i allow the negative side of myself to unleash. Telling things like they are is a double edged sword and sometimes you may find yourself in the middle of committing "Hare Kare" just letting yourself be too much yourself.

Posted by: Rabbitsmoker | September 21, 2010 9:23 PM
Report Offensive Comment

I have the same sinking feeling I had when David Dinkins won the mayor's race in NYC. Gonna be a fun time, DC.

Posted by: Bethesdan | September 20, 2010 6:35 PM
Report Offensive Comment

People consistently choose charm over substance. In the case of former D.C. mayor Marion Barry, they apparently choose charm over substance abuse! If you can become the mayor, get caught smoking crack, do some time and still get re-elected, clearly your charisma has more power than your actions.


That and they citizens of DC could relate to a junkie.

Posted by: OneWhoSpeaksTruth | September 20, 2010 4:00 PM
Report Offensive Comment

The sad and ironic issue with Mr. Gray's election was that in so many major areas from Chairman of the DC Council, his past role with DC Social Services I believe, his accomplishments have been little. While he was not directly responsible for Metro's errant ways, he did not have the council hold them accountable for their many failures and ill operating methods, he did not ensure as Chairman hold the feet of past school boards to the fire to hold them accountable, nor did he hold past Police Chiefs accountable. What he did well was to align well with those well liked within the Black Community esp. Mr. Berry, the Unions representing primarily Black workers. But very little mention was ever documented in a comparison format of his accomplishments and failures or inadequate acts of progress while in his most recent leadership positions in the District. It was on his watch as Chairman that numerous schools went unprepared, unheated and uneducated and w/o books at the start of each school year. And of most importance children did not learn on his watch as Chairman of the Council; rather, he aligns with teachers well documented not to be licensed, non proficient in their teaching abilities, and being up to date with their yearly training and teaching methods. Now he will side with the Black Unions and bring back those same Black Teachers who again will fail to deliver as teachers to the most precious DC commodity - its children.

Posted by: davidmswyahoocom | September 20, 2010 3:16 PM
Report Offensive Comment

Post a Comment

characters remaining

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company