Many crises are not foreseeable, but civil unrest after the election is and leaders and organization should prepare for this.

On Monday, October 19, Logos president Helio Fred Garcia presented a pre-conference briefing on how to foresee the foreseeable and be ready for it when it happens around the US election at the Professional Speechwriters Association’s World Conference.

During this session, Garcia helped attendees understand a mindset to help leaders think through what to do and say ahead of election day, how to organize their thinking (and schedule) for various Election-Day scenarios, and how to prepare for and respond to five possible scenarios for what might happen immediately after the election.

Watch the full webinar here:

Overnight the world learned that President Trump and the First Lady both tested positive for COVID-19. I wish them a full recovery.

But our challenge isn’t that Trump has COVID-19; it’s that the nation does. And it didn’t have to be this way.

A Teachable Moment: Patterns of Crisis

We are in a very teachable moment.

Crises follow predictable patterns. One is that most harm in a crisis is self-inflicted. Sometimes the initial crisis event itself is self-inflicted. But even when it isn’t, most of the loss of trust, confidence, and competitive position is self-inflicted because of an ineffective response.

A foundational principle of crisis response is to understand the scope and severity of a crisis and the risks it represents, and to respond based on those risks. Donald Trump never did.

On January 28 Trump’s national security advisor told him that COVID-19 would be the single largest national security threat in his presidency.

Dr. Irwin Redlener, Director of Columbia University’s Pandemic Resource & Response Initiative

On February 7 Trump admitted to Washington Post Associate Editor Bob Woodward that COVID-19 is spread in the air and is more deadly than the flu.

Three weeks ago Dr. Irwin Redlener, head of Columbia University’s Pandemic Resource and Response Initiative, estimated that if the nation had gone to national masking and lock-down one week earlier, with a constant masking and social distancing policy, 150,000 of the 200,000 fatalities would have been avoided.

Ten Crisis Missteps

In two of my books, Reputation Management and The Agony of Decision, I describe ten predictable missteps in a crisis:

  1. Ignore the problem. Trump did.
  2. Deny the significance of the problem. Trump did.
  3. Compartmentalize the problem or solution. Trump did.
  4. Tell misleading half truths. Trump did.
  5. Lie. Trump did.
  6. Tell only part of what you did. Trump did.
  7. Blame others for your failures. Trump did.
  8. Over-confess. On this one, Trump did not.
  9. Panic, leading to bad decision-making. Trump did.
  10. Shoot the messenger when you receive bad news. Trump did.

Trump has committed nine of the ten missteps when it comes to COVID-19.

The Human Consequences of the Missteps

COVID-19 cases on October 2, 202

Unlike other crises, this has had significant human consequence. At least 75 percent of the cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. would not have happened. And 150,000 people, according to Dr. Redlener, would still be alive.Leaders are judged based on how they deal with their most significant challenges. Trump failed this leadership test. Given the magnitude of the failure of crisis response after Trump was fully aware of the risks, this may be the single worst failure of leadership in American history.

I have previously published that I believe Trump’s handling of COVID-19 to be the single worst handled crisis, and largest leadership failure, in American history.

Again, I wish both the President and the First Lady a full recovery. But perhaps now we can move to a national masking, social distancing, contract tracing, and testing policy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Leadership, Communication, and COVID-19

By Helio Fred Garcia

As the COVID-19 Pandemic continues to  grow, Logos Institute for Crisis Management and Executive Leadership has been advising clients and carefully studying communication by leaders across a range of sectors and forms of organization.

We have reviewed thousands of communications by CEOs, university presidents, NGO executive directors and secretaries general, and public officials. And we have identified patterns that help leaders and their organizations make smart choices and avoid inadvertent self-inflicted harm.

Seven Crises in  One

One of the foundational principles of effective crisis management is to name the problem accurately and to understand the true scope and likely risk of the crisis.

I believe that the COVID-19 crisis is actually seven crises in one. Think of these as seven different dimensions of the crisis. There’s a danger that a leader might be so focused on any one of the dimensions that he or she will miss the need to address the others. The seven dimensions of COVID-19 are these:

  1. Public Health Crisis: At its core COVID-19 is a public health crisis. Half a million people worldwide have gotten sick; tens of thousands have died. More will get sick and die before things get better. But  now in the United States the public health crisis includes a healthcare delivery system that is being strained to the breaking point. As hospitals in epicenters begin to fill up, there’s also a shortage of medical equipment and personal protective gear. Health workers are at risk, as are other patients.
  2. Business Crisis: COVID-19 presents a business problem for all forms of organizations. There is a cost impact, for most organizations a negative one. There  is a revenue impact, mostly negative; for some potentially catastrophic. There is disruption of operations. There is an HR impact.
  3. Economic Crisis: At the same time there is a significant economic crisis underway. The risk of falling into a major recession, very low two months ago, now is quite high. The markets have exhibited unprecedented volatility. Economic uncertainty is wearing on people and institutions.
  4. Information Crisis: From the beginning of the pandemic there has been significant incorrect information, incomplete information, and in some cases intentionally misleading information in the information ecosystem. This information crisis leads to significant misunderstanding about who is at risk of contracting the illness, who can transmit it, and what precautions are appropriate.
  5. Competence of Government Crisis: Not just in the U.S., but initially in China, Iran, and other nations the initial responses were bungled and the virus  spread. In the U.S. we have yet to see a whole of government response. Rather, we’ve seen a fragments of government response. Only in the third week of March, and the third month of COVID-19 in the U.S., are there sufficient tests and testing sites. But there is insufficient personal protective equipment for health workers, and a shortage of hand sanitizers, rubber gloves, and masks in retail stores.
  6. Social Crisis: People’s lives have been upended; many people are losing or at risk of losing their jobs. Supermarket shelves are bare. Many companies have ordered employees to work from home; schools are closed or have gone to virtual learning. But there has also been a rise of incivility, insult, and violence against people who have been stigmatized. President Trump’s insistence on calling COVID-19 “China Virus” or “Chinese Virus” has led to a wave of hate crimes against people perceived to be Asian or Asian-American.
  7. Mental Health Crisis: Human beings are social animals, and social distancing is having an effect. Compound this with the fear of the illness, the rising rate of infections and fatalities, and the other dimensions of the crisis, people are fraught. They are fragile. And they need extra care. New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has asked for mental health professionals to volunteer to work with people not presently under their care to begin to meet this mental health need. I expect other governors will do the same.

 

Everything is Different

The unprecedented scope of the crisis makes it difficult to predict what will happen next. This crisis is unlike others. Among the differences:

  • This is unlike prior pandemics. This is the first global pandemic in a social media world. Recent pandemics were geographically contained. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome was mostly confined to the Republic of Korea. Ebola was contained in the United States, and our military and public health experts were able to contain it in West Africa. And this is the first truly global pandemic in the lifetimes of most people in leadership positions.
  • This is unlike natural disasters. Most organizations are ready or can adapt to natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and floods. But those are generally geographically confined and are sudden but short in duration. COVID-19 is widespread and will continue for a very long time.
  • This is not like ordinary corporate crises. Most corporate crises are limited to a particular company, sector, or geography. But this one affects every organization. And unlike most corporate crises, this one has the additional dimensions of public health, economic risk, information challenges, competence of government, and social dislocation.
  • The situation is constantly changing. The scope of contagion, the government and society’s response to it, and our understanding of risk to ourselves are in constant flux. In a matter of days we saw an escalation from no large crowds to no crowds at all to stay-at-home orders to full lock-down orders.
  • This is fundamentally reshaping our understanding of work. As millions of American workers learn how to work from home, and as companies experiment with different modes of delivering products and services, the likelihood of a return to pre-COVID-19 conditions is not clear.

Crisis Response Best Practices

Most ineffective crisis responses begin with leaders asking some version of What should we do? Or What should we say? The challenge with this kind of question is that it focuses on the we – on the entity or leader in crisis. This results in the consideration of options that may make the leader in midst of crisis feel less vulnerable. But it is unlikely to lead to what is necessary to maintain trust, confidence, and support of those people whose trust, confidence, and support are critical to the organization.

What is needed is a different kind of thinking that begins not with the I/me/we/us but rather with the they/them – with the stakeholders who matter to the organization. The leadership discipline of mental readiness – the readiness to shift frames of reference from the first person — I/me/we/us — to the third person — they/them — makes all the difference.

And that’s because of the way trust works.

A common goal for most organizations and leaders in crises is to maintain the trust and confidence of those who matter – shareholders, employees, customers, regulators, residents, citizens, voters, etc. Trust is what makes other elements of competitive advantage possible, from stock price to employee morale and productivity to support of  regulators.

Trust, in turn, is the consequence of three related but slightly different things:

  1. Promises fulfilled. These can be explicit promises, or implicit promises such as in a brand identity. If we are seen to break a promise, trust falls.
  2. Expectations met. These can be expectations we set ourselves, such as by making promises. Or they can be expectations set by law or by government order. Or they can be expectations set by society. If we fail to meet expectations, trust falls.
  3. Values lived.  When those who matter to us experience us as living our stated values, the result is trust. If those who matter to us experience us as not living our stated values, trust falls.

And one of the patterns we notice is that it is much harder to restore trust once it has been lost than to maintain trust before it has been lost.

Asking What should we do? runs the serious risk of failing even to consider stakeholders’ expectations. Worse, it further risks the leader becoming stuck in his or her own perspective, in I/me/we/us. Hence, such crisis whoppers as BP CEO Tony Hayward’s “I’d like my life back,” or even President Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook.”

Most crisis response failures can be traced back to the ultimate decision-makers focusing on their own frame of reference rather than on their stakeholders.

The right question to ask when determining the appropriate course of action in a crisis is not What should we do.

Rather, it is this: What would reasonable people appropriately expect a responsible organization or leader to do when facing this kind of situation?

For any stakeholder group we can answer the question, What would reasonable members of this stakeholder group appropriately expect a responsible organization or leader to do? to a very granular level. To the level of all employees, or only those employees in this one facility, or only those employees who were present when something happened. We can inventory those granular expectations  for each stakeholder group, and we can then work to fulfill those particular expectations.

But regardless the particular expectations of any given stakeholder group, there is a common expectation that applies to all stakeholder groups all the time:  In a crisis, all stakeholders expect a responsible organization or leader to care.  To care that something has happened; to care that people need help; to care that something needs to be done.

What it means to care may be different from crisis to crisis, or from industry to industry. What it means to care in the early phases of the crisis may be different from what it means to care in the later phases of the crisis. But that we need to care doesn’t change.

The single largest predictor that trust will fall is the perception of indifference. And silence, when there is an expectation of caring, is interpreted by stakeholders as indifference. And it gives our adversaries, critics, media and social media, and trolls the ability to define us as uncaring, or incompetent, or as lacking integrity.

Applying Best Practices to COVID-19 Communication

As the Logos Institute team has studied institutional response to COVIID-19, we have derived these  lessons applying the principle of caring to the pandemic.

  1. Begin all communication, whether written or verbal, with a statement of values, or belief, or intent, or motivation. Don’t dive directly into the facts. Audiences are far more likely to read or listen, understand, and remember when the leader creates an emotional connection first, and that begins with the statement of values.
  2. Show you care. Calibrate communication with empathy.
  3. Be direct: No euphemism. Euphemism is confusing to audiences, especially when under stress. If an employee has died because of COVID-19, say so.
  4. Tell the truth: Avoid misleading half-truths. Remember that you’re in this for the long term. And eventually you’ll need employees to continue to want to work for you, and customers to want to do business with you. If you know that layoffs are likely, and you’re asked whether there will be layoffs, it may be tempting to say something literally true — “At this point there is no plan to lay people off.” This may be true, but the question was not about whether there is a plan but rather about whether there would be layoffs. A better response would be “We haven’t made a final decision, and we will do whatever we can to protect employees, but layoffs are a possibility.”
  5. Address all relevant dimensions of the crisis: public health, business crisis, economic crisis, information crisis, competence of government crisis, social crisis, and mental health crisis. It may be tempting to stay in a single frame, say, business crisis. But your stakeholders are experiencing all seven dimensions of the crisis.
  6. Remember that expectations are dynamic. Yesterday’s expectations may not be helpful today. Calibrate against current expectations.
  7. Communicate at multiple levels. Employees and other stakeholders need to hear from more than the CEO. At this point it is better to over-communicate than to under-communicate.
  8. Align on values; allow granular detail appropriate to each level. Whether the CEO or an EVP or VP or department head or project team leader, there should be alignment on the level of values, belief, intent, or motive. But at each level the granularity should be appropriate to the level of the leader doing the communication.
  9. Convey a positive attitude that balances urgency against the provoking of panic. Effective leaders keep the focus on the future even while demonstrating urgency. But emotions themselves are contagious. Leaders need to stop short of provoking panic.
  10. Express emotion, vulnerability, and humility. Arrogance makes empathy impossible, and it is empathy that gets leaders and organizations through a crisis. Leaders are often reluctant to express emotion or vulnerability. But the most effective ones do.
  11. Get good at being on TV. Whether recording a video for public consumption or conducting a meeting via Zoom or Skype  or GoToMeeting, leaders need to get good at communicating through a video camera.
  12. Remember, people are feeling very fragile. People are scared; they’re worried about their jobs and their friends and their families. People’s work lives and personal lives have been upended. And some people are being stigmatized. Now is a time that calls for kindness. Effective leaders care.

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Logos Consulting Group is pleased to announce that the next book by Logos President Helio Fred Garcia is now available for pre-order.

Words on Fire: The Power of Incendiary Language and How to Confront It is about the power of communication to do great harm, and how civic leaders and engaged citizens can hold leaders accountable to prevent such harm. Garcia focuses on the forms of communication that condition an audience to accept, condone, and commit violence against a targeted group, rival, or critic.

 

Sending Up a Flare

In the book’s preface Garcia writes,

“In my teaching and research, I study patterns: patterns that help leaders enhance competitive advantage, build trust and loyalty, and change the world for the better. I study the patterns of audience engagement and audience reaction. I study persuasion and influence, and the power of language to change people, mostly for the better.”

But he also provides a caution:

“I’ve also been acutely aware of the use of communication to hurt, to harm, and to humiliate, and of how dehumanizing and demonizing language can lead some people to commit acts of violence. I typically don’t teach those things in a classroom, but I often send up a flare, warning students, former students, and others of the predictable, if unintended, consequences of speech that, under the right conditions, can influence people to accept, condone and commit violence against members of a group.”

Garcia notes that he found himself sending up many flares in recent years, but that something changed in 2018. In the Fall of that year he posted on social media persistent warnings about stochastic terrorism, the technical term for language that provokes some people to commit violence. He says,

“My concern grew into alarm as the 2018 mid-term elections approached and as President Trump’s language crossed a line. I worried that someone would be killed by Trump followers who embraced his increasingly incendiary rhetoric about immigrants, Mexicans, Muslims, and critics.”

Garcia’s fears were soon realized.

“In a single week, about ten days before the mid-terms, two separate terror attacks took place: one killed eleven people at worship in a synagogue; one failed but had targeted a dozen Trump critics with mail bombs. In both cases the perpetrators justified their actions by quoting Trump language. One of them, the mail bomber, described his conversion from being apolitical to being ‘a soldier in the war between right and left’ that resulted from his several years in Trump’s orbit.”

The following day Garcia posted a blog on Daily Kos describing the relationship between language and violence. That post was republished by CommPro.biz. Words on Fire is the continuation of that original blog post.

In reflecting on the President’s language, Garcia noticed another pattern: the forms of his language were familiar. He realized that the president was using the very same rhetorical techniques that had preceded previous mass murders, including genocides. He worried that, left unchecked, the president would continue, with increasingly dire consequences.

Garcia explored the kinds of language that historically had preceded acts of mass violence. And he studied contemporary sources including the U.S. Holocaust Museum Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide. The center defines “dangerous speech” as:

“speech that increases the risk for violence targeting certain people because of their membership in a group, such as an ethnic, religious, or racial group. It includes both speech that qualifies as incitement and speech that makes incitement possible by conditioning its audience to accept, condone, and commit violence against people who belong to a targeted group.”

One of the key elements of creating such conditions is to dehumanize others. The Center’s handbook Defusing Hate notes that:

 “Dangerous speech often dehumanizes the group it targets (e.g., by calling its members rats, dogs, or lice), accuses the target group of planning to harm the audience, and presents the target group’s existence as a dire threat to the audience.”

Garcia also studied the work of Yale University philosopher Jason Stanley, who says that when leaders persistently dehumanize others they lessen the capacity of citizens to empathize.

The Playbook

Dangerous speech begins with dehumanization but doesn’t end there. Garcia has identified twelve communication techniques that individually and collectively create a social context that conditions an audience to accept, condone, and commit violence against people who belong to a targeted group. Each technique is a bit different from the other, although the individual techniques have elements in common. They serve as a kind of Playbook that malicious leaders have used to divide communities and to accumulate power. The twelve forms are:

  1. Dehumanize: Calling groups of people animals or vermin who are infesting the nation.
  2. Demonize/Delegitimize: Attributing to a group or rival a menacing, evil identity or calling into question the legitimacy or qualification of a group or rival.
  3. Scapegoat: Blaming a group for all or many of the nation’s problems.
  4. Public Health Threat: Claiming that members of a group are carrying or transmitting dangerous diseases.
  5. Safety Threat: Claiming that a group, rival, or critic is a threat to public safety – likely to cause death or injury to the nation or to the dominant group – or is a threat to civic order.
  6. Violent Motive: Claiming that a group has violent or hostile intentions toward a dominant group.
  7. Severely Exaggerating Risk: Labelling a minor issue or routine event a major threat.
  8. Sinister Identities: Attributing vague or sinister identities to a group or its members.
  9. Conspiracy: Saying that something is part of a sinister conspiracy.
  10. Discredit Information: Discrediting the source of objective information or of information critical of the leader.
  11. Conflation: Conflating the leader and the state, so that any criticism of the leader is seen as an attack on the nation.
  12. Menacing Image: Juxtaposing a menacing image (noose, swastika, flaming cross) with a person or person’s image, a location, or a facility associated with the target.

Words on Fire documents these forms of communication, and the consequences of that language, both before Trump and by Trump.

But it does more. It assesses how American political life came to this dangerous and demoralizing place.

And it offers hope, a path forward: a framework, a mindset, and a set of techniques to help civic leaders and informed citizens recognize the patterns of dangerous speech early, intervene early, hold those who use such language accountable for the consequences, and ideally prevent such violence in the first place.

Garcia and a team of researchers spent 14 months working on the book. In addition to studying historic mass killings that followed the persistent use of dangerous speech, Garcia and his researchers watched hundreds of rallies, interviews, and public appearances by Donald Trump as candidate and president, and read thousands of his tweets. Garcia also examined hate crime violence statistics and trends. And he examined national security and law enforcement scholarship on lone wolf violence up to and including lone wolf terrorism. Garcia synthesizes the fruits of this research and describes how lone wolves develop a terrorist mindset and how they are activated to commit violence.

 

From Stochastic Terrorism to Lone-Wolf Whistle Terrorism

Since 9/11 the use of communication in ways that trigger lone wolves to commit acts of violence, up to and including terrorism, has been known as stochastic terrorism. The name comes from a principle in statistics and describes something that may be statistically predictable but not individually predictable.

But Garcia has concluded that the phrase stochastic terrorism is difficult to grasp, and even to say, and tends to limit discussion. He proposes a different way to describe the phenomenon, based on who is motivated to act on the communication – lone wolves – and what triggers them to so act – a kind of dog whistle that he calls a lone-wolf whistle.

He says:

“Acts of violence triggered by such language I call lone-wolf whistle violence. When such language triggers mass violence with a political, ideological, or similar motive I call it lone-wolf whistle terrorism.”

A Call to Action

Words on Fire also profiles leaders who stepped over the line and were called on it. All, in their own ways and in varying time frames, stopped what they were doing. As responsible leaders do.

Garcia also explores humility as an essential leadership attribute that makes empathy possible. It is empathy that allows leaders to see the damage their rhetoric may cause, and humility and empathy that lead them to stop.

The book closes by providing a framework for civic leaders, engaged citizens, journalists, and public officials to recognize when a leader may have crossed the line, and a way to understand the likely consequences of dangerous speech. Garcia takes the Lone-Wolf Whistle Terrorism Playbook and recasts it as a toolkit or checklist in the form of questions to ask that can help determine whether a leader’s rhetoric is likely to inspire lone wolves to take matters into their own hands.

Early Endorsers

Early reaction to Words on Fire by those who have read the manuscript has been quite positive, and the book has several early endorsers.

David Lapan, Colonel, USMC (ret), former Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security spokesman, says:

“Language is power, and powerful. It can uplift, or harm. Helio Fred Garcia is an astute student of language and communication. This book offers historic examples, keen insights and valuable advice on recognizing patterns of language that can harm or lead to violence.”

Evan Wolfson, Founder, Freedom to Marry, says:

“Drawing on history and his deep expertise in communications, Helio Fred Garcia documents how Trump’s barrage of hate, divisiveness, falsehoods, and triggering are even uglier and more dangerous than we thought, right out of the autocrat’s playbook. During the Nixon administration, John Dean blew the whistle on the ‘cancer growing on the presidency.’ Words on Fire provides a clear and alarming CAT-scan of the cancer growing from this presidency, and a highly readable guide to how we can call out and combat Trump’s toxic language and malignant agenda, pushing back against the corrosive forces that enable Trumpism and put our country in such peril.”

James E. Lukaszewski, America’s Crisis Guru®, says:

“Many of us were taught a lie as youngsters that sticks and stones can break our bones, but words will never hurt us. Fred courageously, graphically and powerfully illustrates that it is words on fire that bloodlessly, without scars or visible traces cause deep internal permanent damage while often triggering accompanying physical damage. And that if we remain silent one victim incinerated by words on fire damages the rest of us.”

Lukaszewski adds,

Words On Fire should be mandatory reading and a guide book for every reporter and editor anywhere. Journalists have significant responsibility for spreading the flames of intentionally incendiary, punitive, abusive language. There should be ethical and cultural sanctions for mindlessly but intentionally originating or transmitting dangerous language. Every business school needs to develop courses for managers and leaders in detoxifying and extinguishing fiery, intentionally emotional and harmful language, whatever the source, followed by every religious leader and elected official. Important institutions in our society and culture have the affirmative responsibility to stand up and speak out against the users and use of words on fire.

Public reaction has also been positive. In the week after Words on Fire became available for Amazon pre-order, it became the Amazon #1 New Release in Rhetoric and #2 in New Releases in Public Administration the #3 best seller in Public Administration.

Words on Fire is scheduled for publication in mid-June. It is available for pre-order in both paperback and kindle edition.

Prior Books by Logos President

Words on Fire is Garcia’s fifth book. His first, published in 1998, was the two-volume Crisis Communications, now out of print.

In 2006 Garcia co-authored with his NYU colleague John Doorley Reputation Management: The Key to Successful Public Relations and Corporate Communication. That book’s fourth edition is scheduled for publication in late Spring. Reputation Management has been adopted in undergraduate and graduate public relations and communication programs around the world, and was published in Korean in Seoul in 2016,

In 2012 Garcia published The Power of Communication: Skills to Build Trust, Inspire Loyalty, and Lead Effectively. The Power of Communication has been adopted by dozens of graduate and professional schools, and was named one of eight leadership books on the U.S. Marine Corps Commandant’s Professional Reading List. It was published in Chinese in Beijing in 2014.

In 2017 Garcia published The Agony of Decision: Mental Readiness and Leadership in a Crisis. The Agony of Decision was named one of the best crisis management books of all time (#2 of 51) by BookAuthority, the leading non-fiction review site. It will be published in Chinese in Beijing later this year.

Garcia has been on the New York University faculty since 1988. He is an adjunct professor of management in NYU’s Stern School of Business Executive MBA program, where he teaches crisis management, and where he was named Executive MBA Great Professor. He is an adjunct associate professor of management and communication in NYU’s School of Professional Studies, MS in Public Relations and Corporate Communication program, where he twice received the Dean’s award for teaching excellence, in 1990 and in 2017.  In that program he teaches courses in communication strategy; in communication ethics, law, and regulation; and in crisis communication.

Garcia is an adjunct associate professor of professional development and leadership at Columbia University, where he teaches ethics, crisis, and leadership in the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science. Garcia is also a Senior Fellow in the Institute of Corporate Communication at Communication University of China in Beijing.

 

How humility helped win trust in the case of Bobby Kennedy

America lost one of its greatest leaders on June 5, 1968. Fifty years later, when the current administration is treating politics as a zero-sum game that turns people against each other, this leader and the humility he embodied is missed more than ever – a leader who made joint success possible by bringing out harmony and faith among all and whose humble leadership style is the antidote to today’s toxic political atmosphere.

I studied charisma and humility in my master’s thesis, which looked at how the two factors of the presidential candidates influence the election results. This blog post is the second in a series of blog posts where I analyze how humility functions as a valuable asset for some of the world’s greatest leaders. The first post was on Alibaba’s founder and former CEO Jack Ma. This one is on Bobby Kennedy.

Bobby played a pivotal role in the New Frontier of America, in fighting for civil rights and social justice during a moment of national crisis (the racial violence and the assassinations of his brother JFK, Martin Luther King Jr., and later his own in the 60s). Despite possible presumptions or colorful images people might have upon hearing his last name, Robert F. Kennedy, for many people even to this day, was remembered as a humble and moral leader who has come to embody “the Democratic Party’s lost dream.”

(Robert F. Kennedy campaigns in Detroit, May 1968.  Andrew Sacks—Getty Images)

 

Trust and Leadership

 

As of September 11, 2018, president Trump’s average approval rating was 38 percent, according to eight polling entities, down from his previous average approval rating of 41 percent. For comparison’s purpose, the then-president Bill Clinton’s approval ratings in September of 1994 hovered between 39 and 51.

Aside from the dwindling approval polling, the Trump administration has set the record in American modern history for administration turnover, according to NBC news. The result of a New York Times analysis of 21 top White House and cabinet positions back to President Bill Clinton shows how unusual the rampant turnover is through the first 14 months of a presidency.

A more direct demonstration of the deterioration of public trust in the current government is data collected by Pew Research Center since 1958, which shows the public trust plumped from 77 percent in 1964 to 18 percent at the end of 2017, and from 19 percent in October 2015 (the last data collected before Trump took office) to 18 percent at the end of 2017.

 

Trust is one of the most important measurement tools of leadership effectiveness. A leader without trust is like a ship captain without a helm, unequipped to lead or steer.

The fatal consequences of losing trust can be seen in both business and the political arena. On October 16, 2018, the court approved a settlement between Tesla CEO and chairman Elon Musk and Security and Exchange Commission (SEC). Charges of fraud were brought against Musk by the SEC over his “false and misleading tweet” in August, claiming that he had secured the funding of taking Tesla private at $420 per share – a substantial premium to its then trading price. On October 8, following the fraud charges on September 29, Tesla stock closed at the lowest low since March 2017, dropping 66 points since in just a week. Musk will step down as chairman of Tesla within 45 days and pay $20 million in fines from his personal funds.

Aside from hurting a company’s ability to raise capital, loss of trust in leadership can also harm a company’s strategic focus, employee morale and productivity, and demand for the company’s goods or services.

What Elon Musk and President Trump have in common is a lack is of humility, an underrated but transforming quality that helped Bobby Kennedy win the hearts and minds of people with diverse backgrounds. Trust in the Trump administration and for Tesla might have been preserved, if the leaders had possessed a dollop of humility.

Now that the important connection between trust and effective leadership has been established, the ways in which humility helped Bobby Kennedy win trust, and therefore succeed as a leader can be explored.

Bobby and Humility

 

In my master’s thesis, I define humility as “a virtue allowing people to have an accurate self-assessment and think less of themselves.” People who possess humility demonstrate it in different ways.

For Bobby, the most distinctive way he embodied humility was through his profound compassion, a capacity to listen, recognize and empathize with his fellow human being. “He felt the same empathy for white working men and women that he felt for Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans,” columnist Jack Newfield once observed. “He thought of cops, waitresses, construction workers and firefighters as his people.”

Bobby’s compassion came from the victimhood and discrimination he experienced growing up. Despite coming from the one of the richest families at that time, Bobby and his family were constantly the social outcasts due to their Irish Catholic identities – the reason why they ended up moving out of Boston. As a child, Bobby’s identity was heavily influenced by rejection he experienced from his father. The least favored Kennedy son’s generous and quiet personality was deemed to be a sign of weakness by his father.

Bobby’s older brother John F. Kennedy, affectionately known as Jack, who became the 35th President of the United States, gained a greater appreciation for his little brother around 1950, when he hired Bobby to manage his first Senate campaign. Bobby thereafter played a key role in Jack’s campaigns for the Senate and presidency. Jack charmed people with his big smile and lighthearted personality, while other more unpleasant jobs fell to Bobby. “I don’t have to think about organization. I just show up,” Jack once said. Their partnership worked well.

It was the night of the West Virginia primary of the 1960 election. Jack Kennedy wanted to be somewhere else because he thought he was going to lose. It turned out to be a big win. Bobby, who was seen as the tough brother of Jack throughout the contest, started to forge character of his own. In Charleston, where it had been raining all day, Bobby headed off to the wet streets to offer his respects to the race’s loser, Hubert Humphrey. “Everybody walked backwards, and there was a path from the door to the other side of the room where Hubert and Muriel were standing. I’ll never forget that walk if I live to be a hundred,” Joseph Rauh, a Humphrey supporter recalled. (Chris Matthews, 2017)

Humility also became a defining trait of Bobby’s policy ideas and management style, throughout his time as U.S. attorney general, New York state Senator, and while campaigning for presidency.

In the Justice Department, one of his regular routines was to tour the floors, introducing himself, but also stopping to listen. “He’d ask for only five minutes of their time, but he always wound up staying longer to learn more,” remembered by John Seigenthaler, Bobby’s administrative assistant. It was those small things that made the men and women working for him believe he would always support them as needed. Bobby therefore built a team, loyal to him, and loyal to each other. (Matthews, 2017)

Beginning in 1960, Bobby was one of the earliest Democrats, at that time, who openly supported Martin Luther King Jr. on civil rights movement. His efforts – a call to the Georgia judge to secure Dr. King’s release in 1960 and combating segregations in Birmingham in 1963 – all sent a clear message to the civil right activists that he was on their side. However, his efforts and remarks were met with objections and even humiliations. “I’ve seen you guys stand around and do nothing more than take notes while we’re being beaten,” Jerome Smith, one of the core activists said. Smith also openly declared that he’d never fight for his country. Bobby was furious. Yet with days passing, he found his way to understand. “I guess if I were in his shoes, if I’d gone through what he’s gone through, I might feel differently about this country,” He told one of his loyalists, and went on doing what he believed right – championing for those who were “not yet free.” (Mathews, 2017)

By the time of his run for president, Bobby had already won the hearts and minds of the people he devoted to. He secured 86% of the black vote in the Indiana primary. (LaFeber, 2005) Later, he declared the victory in California primary and addressed his supporter at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, with his last words echoing, “If we believe that we, as Americans, are bound together by a common concern for each other, then an urgent national priority is upon us. We must begin to end the disgrace of this other America.”

Bobby also won the trust from those who distrusted or hated the Kennedys at the beginning. “Early on I thought he was just a young rich kid, you know, trying to make to the politics,” says Paul Schrade, who later became a major advisor in Bobby’s presidential campaign. Schrade recalled in a Netflix documentary, “he turned into one of the most sincere persons involved in human values, and trying to do the right thing.”

Humility did not make Bobby any less effective as a strategist, as he always had been for his brother Jack in those back rooms of the White House. It instead helped him in forming his own personality when he had to run for office for himself after Jack’s assassination. The Bobby Kennedy whom people remember was the one who “seemed to carry the whole world’s suffering on him,” and who would give a busboy a firm “two-handed shake”. It was that Bobby whom people connected with, followed, and believed. “He seemed uniquely capable of preaching a message of reconciliation in a country violently torn at the seams in 1968,” commented by Politico Magazine. The MSNBC host and longtime political observer Christ Matthews writes, “what thrilled his supporters and scared the hell out of his opponents was that, they believed he’d do exactly what he said he would do.”

(New York City. 1966. Portrait of Robert KENNEDY in his apartment. Source: Netflix)

Conclusion: Lessons for Leaders

 

Humility, as well as compassion, embedded in it, fosters trust in leadership by creating an environment where those around them feel safe and motivated to communicate and to contribute, which in return, further strengthens the connections between the leaders and their followers. Additionally, humility helps leaders win trust by demonstrating the genuine gesture to their people that “I’m with you, and your well-being is part of the equation.” On the other hand, according to Forbes, “if they feel that you do what is best for yourself as opposed to what is good for everyone, they will have a hard time trusting you.”

Acuteness, toughness, and tenacity are qualities that come naturally to any successful leader. But these are not enough. Great leaders lead with humility, through which trust is born. Humility urges leaders to check the ego at the door and start to think about people around them. Who are they? What do they need? Are they happy or suffering? Are they taken care of? If those questions cannot be answered, simply start with reaching out and listening.

No leader can accomplish greatness alone. Humility is the competitive advantage for leaders in recognizing their limits and getting others to fight for or with them. Bobby Kennedy eloquently captured this in one of his most remembered address paying tribute to his late brother at the 1964 Democratic convention, which I deem to be a good ending for this article that will hopefully linger within whomever is reading this for a while, “No matter what talent an individual possesses, what energy he might have, no matter how much integrity and honesty he might have, if he is by himself – and particularly a political figure – he can accomplish very little.”

The United Nations calls its annual General Assembly meeting a “debate,” but the top world leaders rarely make it look like one. This year was different.

Donald Trump spoke second, the traditional slot for an American president, and set the stage for a real debate about the future of international relations. He ditched words like “cooperation” and “partnership” that were favored by past presidents, according to an exclusive analysis with Bloomberg Politics, and reframed US policy in terms of the “sovereignty” of individual nations.

Trump’s peers on the world stage, the leaders of the other G20 major economies, lashed back. All of them mentioned “internationalism” more than Trump’s “sovereignty” buzzword.

And just two days after her UN speech, one of the G20 leaders had an even bigger task. Theresa May jetted to Florence in an attempt to reclaim her country’s momentum in Brexit negotiations with the EU. A separate Bloomberg analysis shows how the Prime Minister softened her tone from a more confident negotiation kickoff speech in January.

For more, follow @Tiouririne on Twitter.

Logos Institute is very pleased to announce the publication of a new book by Helio Fred Garcia,The Agony of Decision: Mental Readiness and Leadership in a Crisis, volume 1 of Logos Institute Best Practice Series. The book is also the first volume in our publishing imprint, Logos Institute for Crisis Management and Executive Leadership Press.

The book is now available for purchase here for individual or bulk orders. For a 15 percent discount, use the discount code QW9CFYKM. A Kindle edition is also available here on Amazon.

This book is about how leaders and the organizations they lead can maintain reputation, trust, confidence, financial and operational strength, and competitive advantage in a crisis.

Through Fred’s 30-plus years of professional involvement in thousands of crises affecting companies, governments, NGOs, and other organizations, he has discovered that the real value in resolving crises is not in excellent internal and external communication, nor in highest-quality tactical execution, however important they may be – and they are mighty important.

Rather, real value came from helping clients figure out and answer the bigger questions and then make the tough choices in a timely way. The execution would follow. So would the communication.

But people often misunderstand. That’s why Fred felt the necessity of writing this book — to help leaders think clearly, plan carefully, and execute effectively when facing high-stakes decisions. A wise man once said, the only meaningful way to escape the agony of decision is by thinking.

This book is for leaders of organizations who need to be good stewards of reputation, trust, and competitive advantage; and for those who advise those leaders, whether in public relations, law, or other business disciplines. We hope you find it helpful.

This is the eighth in a series of guest blogs featuring my recently-graduated capstone (thesis) advisees in New York University’s Master’s in Public Relations and Corporate Communication.

See my earlier posts:

In this blog Yinnan Shen summarizes her capstone on the best blend of charisma and humility to assure success in American presidential politics.

As she shares in her introduction, Yinnan, who did her undergraduate work at Beijing Language and Culture University, came to the United States with an idealized view of American politics. The last presidential election was the first she saw up close.  She chose her capstone topic not only to make sense of this election, but also as an opportunity to dive deeply into American history, politics, and culture in the past 60 years.

While both charisma and humility have been studied extensively, there is very little study of the combination of the two, especially in politics. Her contribution is a good start on a topic that is ripe for continued study: how to balance the seemingly contradictory personality qualities of charisma and humility.

You can download her capstone here.

This week Yinnan starts work as a research analyst at Logos Consulting Group.

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Charisma And Humility in Political Leadership

by Yinnan Shen

Yinnan Shen

2016 was a very interesting year for me, a foreigner who has a keen curiosity about American politics, to experience living in the States. I mean the presidential election part.

I arrived assuming that people are all rational, that there should be a rigorous system with a rigorous standard for choosing the president. That voters rationally assess each candidate referring to that standard, checking boxes, to pick the best candidate to become their president. But sorry Adam Smith; we humans don’t actually make rational choices.

Furthermore, the gap between reality and perception also gets in the way of making rational judgments.

That’s why charisma and humility comes into play in political leadership election and retention. Self-identification and emotion are two key drivers of followers in determining whom to vote for. And charisma and humility appeal directly to followers’ self-identification and emotion, affect their decision-making process unconsciously.

Also, charisma and humility are complementary in assessing a political leader. Humility can prevent charismatic leaders from being egocentric, arrogant, or corrupted.

My capstone therefore takes a deep dive into political leaders’ charisma and humility, and their correlation with political election and retention in the United States of America.

The methodology of this research is simple; build the measurements of humility and charisma first, and apply the measurements on candidates of historical presidential election cycles to find the correlations.

Measurements of Charisma and Humility

In the first part of my capstone, I studied theories on defining and measuring charisma and humility in the history, and then defined the two characteristics and identified key components of them based on past research and my own understanding. I developed a 10-item scale of charisma and a 5-item scale of humility.

Charisma definition: a set of extraordinary qualities and behaviors that inspire admiration, loyalty, and devotion among people, and that naturally separate the individual who possess these qualities from average people.

Charisma measurement:

Leader’s behavior and attributes:

  1. An idealized and even prophetic vision. Having a captivating vision that projects an idealized future for the followers is the foremost characteristic of charismatic leaders. The vision that he or she proposes is most likely to be a challenge to the status quo, a promise to change what has been done wrong in the past to actually excite follower’s trust, sense of belonging, and sense of mission.
  2. Articulation. The articulation of the vision is the key to help the vision reach the 
audience. Charismatic leaders are usually seen to be eloquent and persuasive – to be the masters of communications. Additionally, their tone of voice is always found to be captivating and engaging.
  3. Sensitivity to the environment. Charismatic leaders are most likely to rise from chaos or crisis. They tend to catch subtle trends and patterns of the world around us, which enables them to seize and even create opportunities before anyone else even notices. And this is the birth of their visions.
  4. High empathy. To arouse trust and self-identification with the collective, charismatic leaders are able to empathize with each individual’s needs and emotions, which usually results from their genuine interest in people. Charismatic leadership is actually more intuitive and sensitive than other types of leadership.
  5. Bold and unconventional strategies and tactics to achieve the vision. Charismatic leaders’ visions are convincing only when they go hand-in-hand with revolutionary strategies and tactics in the process of vision implementation.
  6. Willingness to take risks. Leaders are usually perceived as charismatic when they show their willingness to take great risks in making choices. The risk can be personal, or it could be a collective risk that helps achieve a greater good or a collective goal. The charismatic leader stands out when no one else is able to make these “scary choices.”
  7. Confidence in him or herself, as well as in followers. Charismatic leaders usually have high self-esteem, but more importantly, in order to arouse followers’ loyalty and devotion, they also have belief /faith in their followers.  They let followers feel well-involved in reaching the collective goal.
  8. A strong will. A strong will is a necessity for charismatic leaders. They usually have an inexorable will to do what they set mind to. And their drive and persistence can have such a strong influence over followers, and make the followers believe that they will definitely achieve their goals.
  9. High level of trust from followers. Followers trust no matter what the leader proposes or says, and have no doubt in the leader’s abilities to reach the desired vision.
  10. Considered a role model by followers. Charismatic leaders are always perceived as a role model who is everything the followers want to be. They are even idolized sometimes, as if they possess some heroic virtues or divine gifts. The followers also highly identify themselves with the leader. It’s a more personal reaction, usually as a consequence of deep connection, trust, and admiration.

 

Humility definition: a virtue allowing people to have an accurate self-assessment and think less of themselves.

Humility measurement:

  1. Openness. Usually perceived as approachable and able to relate with others, people with humility have the candor to tell the truth, to offer transparency, to open up room for people to get close to them.
  2. Tolerance and forgiveness. An individual with humility is able to listen to contradictory opinions, accept honest advice, appreciate difference, and is open to new ideas. Humility also requires one to not hold too much of a grudge against others, and humble leaders tend to be more understanding than others.
  3. An accurate self-assessment. They usually have an accurate assessment of themselves, including their abilities, strength, and accomplishment. An accurate self-assessment also means that they are able to recognize their mistakes and take responsibility accordingly.
  4. Self-forgetfulness. To have humility, one ought to view him or herself less importantly, which mean they value other people’s inputs, and even put other people’s interests before their own.
  5. Highly secure. Contrary to common knowledge, people with humility actually have high self-esteem and sense of security. They assess themselves and the world precisely, so that other people’s thoughts are less likely to get in the way of making their own choices and their self-assessment. They are also secure enough to show vulnerability, and less likely to exhibit caution and anxiety.

Application on Historical Presidential Election Cycles

In the second part, I studied candidates’ biographies, news reports, opinion polls, speeches, and interviews of the designated political leaders (both the one who won and the one who lost in their respective election cycle). I also conducted in-depth interviews with people who had exclusive insights about those candidates’ personalities,

I applied the measurements on both elected and non-elected candidates in each cycle to grade each candidate’s charisma and humility. For each charisma or humility attribute a candidate exhibited I awarded one point in that respective category.  The results are below, in which the darker colored rows represent the winning candidates.

Conclusions and Guidance on Political Leadership

Using the research results, I drew the four graphs, one per election studied. I took each candidate’s charisma score (x) and humility (y) as this candidate’s coordinate (x, y), and marked it on the corresponding graph. Red dots represent winning candidates and blue dots represent losing candidates.

The blue quarter circle shaded areas were drawn using the radius that equals  the distance from the blue dot to the origin. If we use the linear distance between each dot and the origin, the distance represented by z as a representation of this candidate’s overall performance of charisma and humility, then the blue shaded area means the overall performance of charisma and humility that is less/equal to the losing candidate.

No matter how the x and y varies in each election cycle, the red dots always fall out of the blue shaded areas. That being said, the z value, named as C-H Value, of the winning candidate is always greater than the z value of the losing candidate.

The model implies that political leaders who have a better overall performance of charisma and humility gain more support in political election. It can be applied on any given political candidate, in conjunction with the measurements the capstone created to calculate a candidate’s charisma and humility scores. As long as we have a certain candidate’s charisma score (x) and humility score (y), we’ll be able to calculate his or her C-H Value and compare it to his or her rival’s, in order to have a better understanding of the election result. The model facilitates the interpretation of past election results and helps predict future elections.

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The Trump administration’s January 27th executive order banning refugees and certain legal immigrants from entering the United States galvanized businesses into action. Companies immediately affected by the ban, like airlines, scrambled to manage the impact on their customers. U.S.-based companies with global operations and diverse workforces, like Coca-Cola, Ford, Goldman Sachs, Google and Nike made forceful public statements opposing the ban. Technology and media companies expressed concern for their employees and operations. Starbucks announced plans to hire 10,000 refugees. Companies like Amazon and Microsoft joined the State of Washington’s successful lawsuit challenging the legality of the immigration ban. Apple and more than 125 other companies signed a brief defending the nationwide restraining order. Even companies that have not addressed the impact of the ban publicly are managing its fallout. From assisting affected employees to fielding inquiries from concerned employees and others, few large enterprises could avoid addressing the federal government’s sudden attempt to close U.S. borders to certain groups of people, targeting refugees and Muslims.

The immigration ban is the first of many ethical dilemmas companies will confront under this administration.

Trump signing order January 27The Trump administration brings unprecedented levels of uncertainty for businesses. The immigration ban is the first of many ethical dilemmas companies will confront under this administration. Trump’s controversial proposals include detaining and deporting all undocumented residents of the United States, including children; and creating a Muslim registry. Corporate boards, CEOs and their advisors are asking themselves how the most extreme Trump proposals would affect their company’s people, customers and communities, and how their company should respond. Companies prefer not to address these questions on the fly.

Well-managed companies anticipate risks to their business and plan accordingly. It is no surpsrise that some of the global brands moving quickly to defend the rights of their employees, customers and communities against harmful executive action on immigration in the United States have been working for years to integrate human rights considerations into their global operations. Nike, Starbucks, Coca-Cola, Google, Ford and Microsoft have all faced human rights challenges in the past – from child labor to complicity with abusive security forces to government censorship – and have drawn management lessons from their mistakes. Companies reacting to the immigration ban are pursuing many strategies used by companies seeking to meet their human rights responsibilities, but without articulating any conceptual framework for their actions.

The business and human rights movement provides a roadmap for managing business risks under Trump. Executives and managers looking for a conceptual framework to organize their responses to Trump’s policies, and road-tested tools to manage them, can apply the corporate responsibility to respect human rights to their United States operations.

The Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights

The business and human rights movement provides a roadmap for managing business risks under Trump. 

UNGPs CoverBusiness and human rights” is a management discipline that has emerged over the past three decades. An international benchmark, the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (2011) (PDF), reflects the working consensus among business, governments and civil society on what companies can do to meet their corporate responsibility to respect human rights. Specifically, companies must:

  • Avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities, and address such impacts when they occur; and
  • Seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products or services by their business relationships, even if they have not contributed to those impacts.

To meet this standard, companies have adopted human rights policies, are conducting due diligence to understand the human rights impacts of their operations and business relationships, and finding ways to prevent, mitigate and remedy adverse human rights impacts.

CablammetchMost attention has focused on the human rights impacts of multinationals outside their home countries, typically in places where corporate activity is connected to human rights violations – like child labor, human trafficking and torture – and where legal accountability for perpetrators and remedies for victims are lacking. The most familiar examples are sweatshops in global apparel supply chains and complicity with abusive security forces by oil and mining companies, but advocates have shined a spotlight on the human rights impacts of companies in sectors ranging from agriculture and consumer products to healthcare and technology.

Business and Human Rights under Trump

The business and human rights landscape in the United States shifted dramatically with the election of Donald Trump.

Dodd FrankThe business and human rights landscape in the United States shifted dramatically with the election of Donald Trump.

The prospect of stronger U.S. government action to protect individuals from corporate misconduct has vanished. One of the final initiatives of the Obama administration in December 2016 was the release of a U.S. National Action Plan on Responsible Business Conduct describing the federal policies and governmental expectations for the conduct of U.S corporations operating abroad, including their responsibility to respect human rights consistent with the UN Guiding Principles. Corporate accountability advocates are rightly concerned that the Trump administration will fail to consistently implement the laws and policies contained in the National Action Plan. The ideology and policy prescriptions of Trump’s advisors and cabinet, abetted by Republicans in Congress, means the likely weakening of protections for consumers, workers, and communities against corporate abuses under federal U.S. law, especially concerning the activities of U.S. companies abroad. Regulations of corporate conduct are more likely to be stripped than strengthened. (One exception may be the issue of tax avoidance, for which companies could face greater scrutiny if Trump’s rhetoric becomes policy.) The modest federal human rights reporting requirements enacted during the past decade, like the conflict mineral provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act, are already targeted for elimination. The Trump regime may even stop prosecuting companies for bribing foreign officials under the Foreign Corrupt Practice Act. Advocates will have to rely on other tools to promote corporate responsibility for human rights impacts.

TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty ImagesAbsent government enforcement, voluntary corporate action has become the backstop for meeting the corporate responsibility to respect human rights in the United States. The policy shift in Washington may be good news for business executives who subscribe to a “profits at all costs” business model. It is deeply troubling, however, for the business leaders, managers and employees who know that business success in the long run (beyond the next earnings cycle) is inextricably tied to meeting the expectations of customers, investors and employees that companies demonstrate corporate responsibility, their so-called “license to operate.” Leading companies, especially those companies that have integrated compliance and human rights standards into the way they do business, are unlikely to make bribery or human rights violations part of their business plans. Unethical executives will be less likely to get caught, but responsible companies will continue to comply with the spirit of the UN Guiding Principles. U.S. federal regulators may be instructed to look the other way when companies do harm, but the corporate responsibility spotlight now shines brighter than ever on business operations in the United States.

In a complete role reversal, business leaders may need to mobilize to hold the U.S. government accountable for protecting human rights and obeying the Constitution. U.S. companies face the real prospect of human rights violations connected to their operations much closer to home. Multinationals operating in the United States will be asked to demonstrate that they are respecting human rights whenever U.S. government policies fall short of international standards, and significantly, if government actions violate the United States Constitution. Businesses will also face pressure, as they are right now regarding the immigration ban, to deploy corporate resources as a check on the U.S. government.

Rights under Threat

The corporate responsibility spotlight now shines brighter than ever on business operations in the United States.

Internationally recognized human rights threatened by proposed actions of the Trump administration include the rights to non-discrimination; to recognition and equality before the law; to protection from arbitrary arrest and from interference with privacy; to personal security; to freedom of opinion and expression; to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; to political participation; and to freedom of association. These rights, defined under international law in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights and labor treaties, are the focus of corporate efforts to manage their human rights impacts outside the United States. Other rights that have received less attention by most companies may now come into play, such as prohibitions of “propaganda for war” and “advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence” (ICCPR, Article 20), and the right of “ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities” to “enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religions, or to use their own language.” (ICCPR, Article 27). The Trump campaign and administration have demonstrated a willingness to engage in such tactics in the United States, and to target minorities.

The Corporate Responsibility to Respect the U.S. Constitution

U.S. ConstitutionCompanies operating in the United States should consider the U.S. Constitution together with the international human rights instruments to define their potential human rights impacts. Most internationally recognized human rights are protected in some form under United States law at the federal, state and/or local level. The United States Constitution’s Bill of Rights, for example, enumerates rights including the free exercise of religion (First Amendment): the freedoms of speech, of the press, and of assembly (First Amendment); freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures (Fourth Amendment); the right to vote (Fifteenth, Nineteenth, Twenty-Fourth, Twenty-Sixth Amendments); and the rights to citizenship, due process and equal protection of the law (Fourteenth Amendment).

Companies can add “US Constitutional rights” to human rights principles as another lens through which they manage the impacts of their operations in the United States.

Companies can add “US Constitutional rights” to human rights principles as another lens through which they manage the impacts of their operations in the United States. If federal, state or local authorities in the United States engage in systematic discrimination; target individuals or groups for harassment based on national origin or religion; curtail press freedoms; seek to arrest undocumented individuals; separate children from their families; or arbitrarily restrict the right to vote; their actions or omissions are likely to be both unconstitutional and violate international human rights.

Human Rights Impact Management

In the Trump era, companies must exercise due diligence to identify, prevent and mitigate the domestic human rights impacts of their operations and business relationships in the United States.

Due DiligenceCompanies can manage the risks of contributing or being connected to government actions that violate human and Constitutional rights using the same concepts and tools that apply a human rights lens to their non-U.S. operations. In the Trump era, companies must exercise due diligence to identify, prevent and mitigate the domestic human rights impacts of their operations and business relationships in the United States.

If U.S. government action violates rights, companies must take steps not to cause or contribute to any of the human rights impacts, and must be prepared to respond appropriately when any of these scenarios touch their people, products, or partners.

Companies should be prepared to do five things to manage their human rights impacts and meet their responsibilities to respect rights under Trump:

1.  Protect employees.

EmployeesWhen government actions threaten or harm employees, companies must act to support and protect them. The priority for companies in the wake of the immigration ban has been to identify affected employees, ensure their safety, and provide assistance, such as travel, legal and financial support. Providing employees with clear, accurate information about the immigration ban and its impact, so that individuals can take action to protect themselves and their families, is a first step companies can take to meet their responsibility to employees. Employees are the stakeholder group companies can help most directly, but businesses must also consider how to support and protect others connected to their particular business, such as customers, business partners and the communities where they operate.

2.  Avoid complicity.

Rally Against the Immigration Ban (32487627352)Companies must ensure that they are not contributing to rights violations in any way. A practical first step for businesses is to apply international standards for effective human rights due diligence, such as human rights impact assessments, to their corporate operations and business relationships in the United States. Airlines that refuse to allow passage to refugees in the wake of the immigration ban, for example, are at risk of complicity with violations of the right to seek asylum under international law. Particularly important will be corporate relationships with the U.S. government, its agencies and the Trump administration. CEOs serving as advisors to the Trump administration are already attracting extra scrutiny from customers and rights advocates. If the Trump administration were to attempt to detain all undocumented residents of the United Sates or to create a national registry based on religious belief, companies should not provide information nor supply products or services that would foreseeably contribute to rights violations.

Once a company understands how its operations, products or relationships are connected to potential or actual rights violations in the United States, the business must act to cease or prevent its own violation or contribution, and use its leverage to prevent and mitigate violations by others. Exercising leverage may take the form of challenging rights violations or opposing harmful policies. Companies connected to human rights violations committed by government security forces outside the United States have intervened with government authorities seeking to prevent the violations, promoted standard-setting and training initiatives to prevent future violations, and have ended business relationships to ensure they are not connected to violations. U.S. companies are beginning to use their leverage, individually and collectively, to prevent and mitigate the impact of the immigration ban. One can imagine scenarios in which companies refuse to provide goods or services to U.S. government agencies violating rights, or in the case of non-U.S. companies, pull out of the U.S. market altogether if the violations are sufficiently severe.

3.  Mitigate harmful impacts.

NondiscriminationWhen companies are unable to stop harmful policies and actions by others, they can seek to mitigate the negative impact on their employees, customers, business partners and communities. Companies have sought to comply with the spirit of international human rights standards outside the United States by protecting rights “within the factory walls.” Brands sourcing from factories in China, for example, where independent trade unions are banned, have promoted the creation of factory worker councils to bring concerns over working conditions to management. Businesses must consider ways to ensure that their U.S. workplaces provide safe spaces where individual rights are protected. Adopting workplace policies reinforcing a commitment to non-discrimination and prohibiting the harassment of any individual based on national origin or immigration status is one concrete way to meet the corporate responsibility to respect rights.

4.  Challenge rights violations.

Companies must obey the laws wherever they operate, yet the corporate responsibility to respect human rights goes beyond legal compliance. What is lawful may still violate an individual’s rights. Challenges arise for companies when local law or its enforcement conflicts with international standards. Companies must be prepared to challenge government actions that are unconstitutional or violate human rights.

Tech CompaniesIn countries where laws explicitly contradict international human rights standards, companies have found ways to minimize their connection to human rights violations by others. In China, Brazil and elsewhere, for example, foreign technology firms have insisted upon valid judicial orders before acquiescing to demands from government officials to turn over personally identifiable user information for questionable purposes. Companies may face similar situations in the United States if asked by law enforcement authorities to turn over personal information related to their employees’ or customers’ national origin, immigration status or religious beliefs. Businesses can exhaust all available legal processes, as Apple successfully refused to collaborate with the FBI to unlock encrypted iPhones, and challenge the legality of government actions in court, as some companies are now doing in opposition to the immigration ban. Companies can also communicate publicly about government actions that violate rights, using transparency to highlight actual and potential rights violations. Since 2009, for example, Google has published a “Transparency Report” with data on government requests to hand over user data, and how the company responds. Companies will need to be more transparent about what the U.S. government under Trump asks them to do, and the likely consequences of compliance.

5.  Oppose harmful policies.

Google CEOCompanies in diverse sectors are speaking out against the immigration ban. In response to government actions targeting Muslims, immigrants and refugees, companies are directing corporate resources toward organizations defending these groups and their rights. Multinational companies have learned that the corporate responsibility to respect human rights often requires advocating for governments to fulfill their own human rights obligations. Companies have criticized rights violations by governments around the world and opposed harmful government policies privately, publicly and in partnership with others through business associations, coalitions and advocacy networks. More businesses will need to become public rights advocates in the United States. 

Starbucks-refugee-cupCorporate advocacy is most effective when it reinforces company values. U.S. companies in recent years have publicly opposed state laws in the United States that would permit discrimination based on sexual preference. Since the election, U.S. companies have spoken out to let their stakeholders know where they stand on the most extreme Trump proposals.

When engaging in public advocacy on rights issues in the United States, companies will need to overcome any cultural reluctance to speak out publicly. This will seem even riskier because Trump has embraced the “naming and shaming” of individual companies to advance his political agenda. Companies at the center of the business and human rights movement, however, understand that customers, employees and investors often view corporate silence in the face of rights violations as tacit complicity.

Human rights impact management accounts for all of these strategies.

The discipline that accounts for all of these strategies is human rights impact management, an approach that more and more business leaders may now embrace to effectively manage the Trump administration. What is your company doing to meet its corporate responsibility to respect rights in the United States?

Anthony P. Ewing (aewing@logosconsulting.net) is a Senior Advisor at Logos Consulting Group and a Lecturer at Columbia Law School, where he teaches business and human rights.

Last week’s viewers might have felt the president’s inclusiveness, but history will remember his dire warnings.

Ten days before handing the Oval Office keys to a successor famous for his mega-rallies, Barack Obama gathered one last huge crowd of his own. His January 10 farewell address was all about his 20,000 admirers at Chicago’s McCormick Place.

“You made me a better president,” Obama said, “and you made me a better man,” Over the course of his 4,267-word speech – the longest presidential farewell of the broadcast era – he used “you,” “your,” or “yours” 81 times. That’s 19 “you” words per 1,000 total words, besting Ronald Reagan’s 1989 mark of 12 per 1,000.

As with inclusive “we” words (like “we,” “us,” and “ours”), the use of “you” words is a hallmark of effective leadership communication. According to Quantified Communications CEO Noah Zandan, who studies and advises on public speaking, visionary leaders like Tesla’s Elon Musk and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg use “you” words 60 percent more often than the average speaker.

More popular presidents use more “you” words, too. Obama reflected the glow of his 56 percent approval rating in the latest Gallup tracking poll, ending a list of accomplishments by telling his audience, “That’s what we did. That’s what you did. You were the change.”

Reagan, who left office with a 62 percent approval rating and a nickname as “The Great Communicator,” did much the same in his farewell address. “I’ve had my share of victories in the Congress,” he said, “but what few people noticed is that I never won anything you didn’t win for me.” Reagan also laced the speech with vivid portraits of presidential life, putting watching Americans in his shoes. “You spend a lot of time going by too fast in a car someone else is driving, and seeing the people through tinted glass … And so many times I wanted to stop and reach out from behind the glass, and connect. Well, maybe I can do a little of that tonight.”

Among the seven farewell addresses of the broadcast era, there’s a clear correlation between the frequency of “you” words and the president’s final approval rating – tighter than the slightly positive relationship between “we” words and approval, or the slightly negative one between “me” words and approval.

“You” words are likely both a cause and an effect of the public’s thumbs-up. It’s possible that “you” words are a president’s response to high approval, as when Obama said, “You are the best supporters and organizers anyone could hope for, and I will forever be grateful.” Or, “you” words could be a driver of high approval, convincing voters that the president cares about them: “I am asking you to believe,” Obama said, “Not in my ability to bring about change, but in yours.” (Obama used the word “change” 14 times in his farewell address, echoing his final State of the Union last year and, most of all, his 2008 campaign.)

However, the part of Obama’s swansong that will most likely capture the attention of 22nd Century historians isn’t his inclusive tone. It’s when he drew on the mother of all precedents, George Washington’s hand-written 1796 farewell letter, to go from eulogy to sermon and back again. Bookended by a list of accomplishments and a list of thanks, Obama devoted the middle 57 percent of his speech to warning of three “threats to our democracy:” Economic inequality, racial division, and political partisanship.

“Democracy does require,” Obama intoned, “a basic sense of solidarity – the idea that for all our outward differences, we are all in this together.” Or, in Washington’s words, “You should properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness.”

The similarity wasn’t lost on Obama, who at one point even cited his source. “In his own farewell address, George Washington wrote that self-government is the underpinning of our safety, prosperity, and liberty, but,” Obama said, quoting Washington, “’from different causes and from different quarters much pains will be taken … to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth.’”

The most famous phrase of any modern farewell address is a warning, too. Dwight Eisenhower coined the term “military-industrial complex” to warn of runaway defense spending as he left office in 1961.

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