Helio Fred GarciaHelio Fred Garcia | Bio | Posts
31 Dec 2014

Every year I look for great moments in leadership and leadership communication. This year offered many candidates for the greatest leadership moment. The usual suspects come from the world of politics, sports, or business. But there was one unlikely moment in 2014 that in my view shows leadership in an unexpected light, one that offers both teachable moments and hope for leaders in any field.

Great Leaders Transcend the Either/Or

Ever since the murder of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri in August, there has been a growing movement calling attention to the disproportionate number of black youths who are killed by police officers. In the months following the Ferguson shooting, other police-involved shootings led to national protests, including the “Hands Up/Don’t Shoot” rallies and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Black Lives Matter

The media has framed the conflict as police v. black communities, and New York City police have played into that dynamic by showing disrespect to New York Mayor Bill De Blasio after he noted that he has spoken with his own son, who is black, about his personal risk when interacting with police.

But however convenient for the media to paint the conflict as either/or; as pro-police or pro-community, it doesn’t have to be this way. And great leaders can transcend the bifurcation and find ways to unite and move forward.

My pick for the best leadership and leadership communication moment in 2014 is Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson. I’ve taught his case in several graduate business and communication courses in the five months since, and each time it brings tears to the students’ eyes. I share it here.


 Michael Brown was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri on Saturday, August 9. The police mishandled the investigation and aftermath, and by midweek the St. Louis county and other local police forces mishandled the protests that erupted. The US and national media descended on the scene, broadcasting live from the streets.

Ferguson_Day_6,_Picture_44The police over-reaction included paramilitary police in military gear riding on an armored vehicle, with a sniper aiming his rifle at protesters. It included tear-gassing of the crowds and of journalists, and intimidating journalists and other observers. The scene was reminiscent of a war zone, and covered that way in the national and international press.

watching the crowd with rifles

By late week, Missouri governor Jay Nixon took control of the situation, and named the Missouri Highway Patrol as the agency responsible for crowd control. He appointed State Patrol Captain Ron Johnson the commander on the scene.

Johnson, who is black and who grew up and still lives in the Ferguson area, immediately reframed his role: it was not to protect Ferguson from the protestors, but to protect the protestors’ right to peaceably assemble.

 The Transforming Moment

But the great moment in leadership came the Sunday eight days after Michael Brown’s shooting, and four days after the tear-gassing in the streets.   It was at a church, at a rally in support of the Brown family. Capt. Johnson arrived wearing his state trooper uniform. There was palpable tension in the large crowd as he took the pulpit. UntitledBut he began in an unexpected way:

 “I want to start off by talking to Mike Brown’s family. And I want you to know my heart goes out to you. And I say that I’m sorry. I wear this uniform. And I should stand up here and say that I’m sorry.”

It was a remarkable moment. And the crowd was not expecting it. There was initial silence, then applause, which lasted for more than thirty seconds; the final fifteen of which included cheers.

In that moment Johnson transformed the situation.  He connected with the community; he opened a valve that allowed pent-up emotions to be released, in a positive and constructive way.  He spoke first to the people most directly affected, the Brown family. He expressed sympathy for their loss, and then said he’s sorry. He repeated it in the frame of his uniform. Their experience of the police, from the shooting of their son to the mishandling of the crime scene to the bungling of the protests, was one of indifference and of confrontation. Here was a police leader moving past those experiences and connecting at a human level.

And there was significance in his phrase: “I wear this uniform. And I should stand up here and say that I’m sorry.” He was the first law enforcement officer to say so.

Having established an institutional leadership role, he then connected more personally, and made a personal commitment.

 “This is my neighborhood. You are my family. You are my friends. And I am you. And I will stand and protect you. I will protect your right to protest.” (More cheers.)   I’m telling you right now I’m full right now. I came in here today and I saw people cheering and people clapping, and this is what people need to put on TV.” (More cheers and applause.)

He then told his own story.

“When this is over, I’m going to in my son’s room. My black son. Who wears his pants sagging; wears his hat cocked to his side; has tattoos on his arms. But that’s my baby.”

Then he moved from the personal to the public:

“Let’s continue to show this nation who we are; continue to show this country who we are; for when these days are over Mike Brown’s family is still weeping, and they’re still praying…

He closed by connecting, promising, and rallying:

 “I love you. I stand tall with you. And I’ll see you out there.”

A police officer told the community that he loves them.  Remarkable.

Watch the six minute talk here:

Leadership Best Practices

Capt. Johnson’s six minute talk met many of Logos Institute’s best practices. One is that you can’t move people unless you meet them where they are. Capt. Johnson did that, connecting in his first sentence with the Brown family and throughout with the community, both black and white. He understood the power of framing: “I wear this uniform. And I should stand up here and tell you I’m sorry.”

Our friend and fellow crisis counselor James E. Lukaszewski describes a pattern in crises he calls the Victim Cycle.  Early intervention can pre-empt or shorten the victim cycle.  In the early phases the victims (both those directly affected and those who empathize) need assistance with their own grief; to hear an expression of regret; to see involvement from the institution in queston; to receive information; and to have their plight recognized. In later phases they also need to receive validation of their suffering; get honest communication from the organization; to hear an apology from the top of the organization; to experience direct communication; and receive compassion. Capt. Johnson delivered all of those in his remarks.

And the Logos Institute best practices decision criteria were also met. The defining question in determining what to do or say is:

What would reasonable members of the stakeholder group appropriately expect

a responsible organization or leader to do when facing a situation like this?

And in the case of the Ferguson community, when Capt. Johnson addressed them, the reasonable expectations of a responsible leader would be to connect, express sympathy and regret, and to honestly declare his values, commitments, and next steps. Capt. Johnson did.

In many ways he was the leader best suited to do so.

Time magazine quotes St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson, who knows Captain Johnson from working on large events such as a presidential motorcade:

“He’s a quiet guy, but he is professional. When he speaks, people listen. When he acts, people respond to it. He’s familiar with the area, he comes from the area, and he connects with the community.”

Time quotes his former boss, Patrol Superintendent Colonel Roger Stottlemyer, who promoted Johnson to captain in 2012:

“I think he’s a calming influence on people.  I think he knows the people there, he knows what their concerns are, he can relate to them having come from that community.” …Stottlemyer said that at the time Johnson was rising in the ranks, there were fewer than 100 officers of color in a force of 1,200 officers. “He was a star, and it was obvious from the beginning.”  Stottlemyer said he promoted Johnson to Captain partly because he was impressed with his leadership style. “I observed when he was a corporal and a sergeant, the way he handled his men and the way he handled issues that comes up,” he said. “He communicates well with his people. He was an officer that you didn’t have complaints about.”

 Unfinished Business

The national debate set off by the Ferguson killing and aftermath is bigger than any one local community and any one law enforcement officer.  And however effective a leader Captain Johnson may be, the national controversy is large and getting larger, and many other players are now involved.  The media continues to portray the issue as either/or; as police v. community/community v. police.

But in all the controversy, it is reassuring to see real leadership in action, even in a small community, that transforms a situation and brings people together.  For his courage, his compassion, his authenticity, and his effective leadership, I am pleased to pick Capt. Johnson’s remarks on August 17 as the leadership and leadership communication moment of the year.

Your thoughts welcomed.


Adam Tiouririne Adam Tiouririne | Bio | Posts
23 Oct 2014 | 4:06PM

There are few more brightly lit intersections between language and leadership than State of the State season. Each January through April, America’s governors enter the spotlight to tout successes, downplay failures, and set priorities for the year ahead. This is the second in a series of posts using these speeches to analyze which politicians say what and why.

Governors talk about Jobs when they’re in close elections, Education when their schools are improving, and Healthcare when they’re mad at the President.

Who knew it was that easy? In What Women Want, Mel Gibson had to endure electrocution in order to read minds. For those watching America’s governors this election season, all we need to penetrate their psyche is their own words.

These interactive maps show how often governors mentioned Jobs, Education, and Healthcare in their 2014 State of the State speeches. For example, Jobs words (including job, jobs, employment, and others) accounted for 0.05% of the total words in California Governor Jerry Brown’s speech. You can mouse over the maps to explore the data and find your own governor.

Governors facing close re-election races are more likely to discuss Jobs.

Although State of the State season starts ten months from election day, there’s evidence that governors are looking ahead to tough campaigns when crafting their speeches. For both Democrats and Republicans, focusing on jobs is a time-tested strategy to reach undecided voters and avoid divisive social issues. [show-map id=’2′]

Governors facing toss-up re-election contests use Jobs words 26% more often than other governors. Of the four most Jobs-heavy speeches, three were given by governors — Scott Walker (R-WI, 1.57%), Rick Scott (R-FL, 1.21%), and Dan Malloy (D-CT, 1.00%) — who are facing toss-up races, according to the Cook and Rothenberg Political Reports.

Governors with improving school systems are more likely to discuss Education.

On this issue, the star pupils are eager to brag about their high marks. The more a state improved its Education Week Chance for Success rating from January 2013 to January 2014, the more often that state’s governor used Education words in his or her 2014 speech. In addition to the map, check out this scatter plot to see the relationship between 2013 school improvements and 2014 State of the State speeches. [show-map id=’3′]

Tennessee students improved the fastest in Education Week‘s scoring, then heard one of the nation’s most Education-heavy speeches from Bill Haslam (R-TN, 1.70%). Governors like Mike Pence (R-IN, 2.00%), Sean Parnell (R-AK, 1.92%), and Mark Dayton (D-MN, 1.69%) also rank near the top in both their state’s educational improvement  and their speech’s Education words.

Governors opposed to the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, are more likely to discuss Healthcare.

Healthcare featured only lightly in 2014’s State of the State season, and was altogether absent from four speeches. But for some governors, mentioning healthcare was enough to raise their blood pressure. Republican governors, who are generally opposed to President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, used Healthcare words 46% more often than Democratic governors. And among Republicans, those who rejected Obamacare’s state-based Medicaid expansion were 56% more likely to discuss Healthcare than those who accepted the expansion. [show-map id=’4′]

The top two Healthcare-heavy speeches, by Dave Heineman (R-NE, 0.83%) and Robert Bentley (R-AL, 0.71%), each included a full-throated rejection of the ACA Medicaid expansion. Heineman thundered, “President Obama and his White House political operatives are trying to pressure Nebraska into expanding Medicaid, but Nebraska will not be intimidated by the Obama administration.”

Leading up to November’s election and to January’s 2015 State of the State season, I’ll continue this series of analyses. In the meantime, share your thoughts, ideas, and suggestions for what gubernatorial mind-reading we might try next.

The data used in this study is available here (Excel file) and — if you have a lot of time on your hands — the text of these speeches is available here.

Share your thoughts here, like this post on LinkedIn, or tweet @Tiouririne.

Helio Fred Garcia Raleigh Mayer | Bio | Posts
5 Oct 2014 | 9:17AM

One autumn a dozen years ago, when my daughter was about four years old, she was thrilled by an early snowfall. She immediately phoned my mother, who lived just across town, to share her excitement.

“Grammy”, she asked, “is it snowing in your country?”.

Naturally my mother, only one zip code away, was highly amused by the question, and with each winter precipitation our family repeats the punchline.

Kids do say the darndest things, yet there is also a larger leadership lesson here: To consider the other person’s environment — psychologically and intellectually, as well as physically — before assuming their point of view or experience is aligned with yours.

Professor Amy C. Edmondson, The Novartis chair of Management and Leadership at Harvard Business School, explores the concept, known as testing assumptions, in her book, Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy.

“Many conflicts arise from personal differences in values or interests but are presented as professional differences in opinion”, says Edmonson. And that can lead to misunderstandings at best (‘Snow? What snow?’) or, more typically, conflict. Edmondson elaborates, “As often happens, especially in ambiguous situations, conflicting interpretations of the same facts are used to fuel conflicting truths.”

Many of my coaching clients find that when they reframe their perspective on business behaviors through the lens of anthropological study, rather than personal reaction, they not only learn more about the other party’s approach; they also become more sympathetic to opposing views, and a good deal less emotional in managing differences.

One way to do this, as Edmondson describes in her book, is to model effective communication: “Good communication when confronting conflict, especially heated conflict, combines thoughtful statements with thoughtful questions, so as to allow people to understand the true basis of a disagreement and to identify the rationale behind each position.”

Is it snowing in your country?

Adam Tiouririne Adam Tiouririne | Bio | Posts
3 Sep 2014 | 10:20AM

This analysis was featured in Foreign Policy’s Democracy Lab Weekly Brief on September 8, 2014. Thanks, FP!

In international affairs, some phrases are so consistently misused that they should immediately arouse suspicion: “The talks were productive.” “Our civilian nuclear energy program.” “We cannot confirm or deny.” And here’s another one: “People’s Democratic Republic.”

People’s Democratic Republics are actually the least likely countries to be popular, democratic, or republican.

Let’s start with a look at how countries name themselves. Founding fathers like George Washington, Mohandas Gandhi, and Ho Chi Minh all have something in common with more conventional parents: Arguing over baby names. For example, Macedonia, grown from a baby to a teenager, is embroiled even still in a bitter naming dispute with Greece — which is formally named the Hellenic Republic.

Most countries’ formal names consist of a geographic word (which we usually use as each country’s common name) with one or more types of modifiers:

Country Names - Icon Popularity - 2014 Sep 3 Popularity: Words asserting that power belongs to the people. (Republic of France; Democratic Republic of the Congo; People’s Republic of China; Socialist Republic of Viet Nam)
Country Names - Icon Popularity - 2014 Sep 3 Royalty: Words referencing a hereditary ruler. (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; Grand Duchy of Luxembourg; Sultanate of Oman)
Country Names - Icon Popularity - 2014 Sep 3 Unity: Words implying togetherness or the sum of constituent parts. (Russian Federation; United States of America; Commonwealth of Australia)

A few countries combine categories (Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia), use other modifiers (Independent State of Samoa), or eschew descriptions altogether (Canada). But for all their revolutionary boldness, most national founders have settled on the safe choice: Simply “Republic.”

Country Names - Post Chart - 2014 Sep 3

Just four countries have dared to bedazzle their names with a Popularity trifecta: The People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria; the Lao(s) People’s Democratic Republic; the Democratic People’s Republic of (North) Korea; and the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. But these utopian names belie bleaker conditions on the ground.

There’s an Orwellian trend in national names.

Each year, the NGO Freedom House publishes an international index of political rights and civil liberties — in other words, of how popular, democratic, and republican countries actually are. These rankings show that the more Popularity words a country’s name includes, the fewer political and social freedoms its people tend to have.

Country Names - Bar Chart - 2014 Sep 3

George Orwell’s Politcs and the English Language decries imprecision and obfuscation in the political language of his time. And that was 1946. Orwell, who died before any of the three-Popularity-word countries was established, would be shocked at how far doublespeak has come.

What explains this combination of lofty language in official documents and base repression in the streets?

Perhaps the founders who peppered their countries’ names with Popularity words really did intend to conceal the authoritarian flavors they planned. Or perhaps their chosen names are evidence of unattainably good intentions that inevitably went awry.

But the most important factor in these countries’ lack of political and social freedom may be their age. Countries with multiple Popularity words in their names tend to be founded more recently than other countries. That means they’ve had less time to develop open political norms and institutions. In naming their countries, these founders may simply have been victims of a long-term uptrend in Orwellian language — a scourge yet absent when the longstanding Kingdoms and Republics of, say, liberal Europe were born.

Whatever the cause, treat the phrase “People’s Democratic Republic” like you’d treat the phrase “We cannot confirm or deny”: When you hear it, take a closer look.

The United Nations list of formal country names is available here (PDF), and the Freedom House 2014 Freedom in the World report is available here. Note that the Freedom House data in this post has been inverted (so that higher numbers mean more political and social freedom, rather than less) and shifted (from a 1-7 scale to a 0-6 scale) for ease of understanding. All of the original rankings and the differentials between them are fully preserved.

Share your thoughts here, like this post on LinkedIn, or tweet @Tiouririne.