Tell Us How

As a talk show host, he had a solid reputation.  He was fair, and he covered a variety of topics that demonstrated his social awareness.  He welcomed diverse opinions, and he encouraged varied lines of thought.  And he possessed a natural ability to put his guests at ease.

He developed a proposal to host a series of shows that would allow local, state, and national political leaders to share their plans for dealing with contemporary issues.  He hoped that these shows would enhance public approval ratings for those in politics.  This was not going to be a debate format, but was instead a one-on-one interaction through which leaders could speak openly with their constituents.  The format for the show was simple and straightforward.  Guests would have an opportunity to share a little about themselves, talk about their plans to address critical issues, then engage in a live, Question-&-Answer, call-in session.

When the general invitations were sent out, he and his staff anticipated a flood of responses.  He was offering a no-cost forum for political leaders to share with those who elected them.  After a week he had only a few responses all of which were polite no-thank-you replies.  Those who did take the time to respond offered vague reasons why they couldn’t accept.  Disappointed and a bit chagrinned, he personally contacted several of those who had yet to respond.  The feedback they provided was strikingly similar.

Those who were willing to share were clear that they were concerned about the live Question & Answer session.  Some were adamant that they wanted nothing to do with the show because of it, while some said if they could get the questions up front and choose the ones to which they would respond, they may reconsider the invitation.  They also said that the shows would need to be taped, and that they would have the option to review the show before it was aired.  Not pleased with these options, but still wanting to go through with the show, the host, his producer, and the station manager agreed.  They would give it a try.

After the first two segments were filmed, they were pleased that the project was underway.  The logistics and the technical aspects were working out, but the host was something less than impressed with the content.  Nonetheless, he agreed to tape three more programs.  With five done, he and his staff would review what they had, before making the decision to continue or air any of them.  The next three also lacked any meaningful content.

When the host and his team reviewed the five sessions, what they had was clear to all of them.  As the team started watching the tapes, they were all taking notes.  By the third tape, they all stopped writing.  Segment to segment the faces and the voices changed, but there wasn’t a single statement that shared how any one of them planned to work toward potential solutions.  The producer said, “Even a not-so-good idea would have been better than none at all.  Folks we’ve got nothing to offer our viewers.”

They had five 30-minute segments where elected officials introduced themselves, then pointed out what they saw as one or two of the most pressing problems confronting local, state, and the national governments.  They then offered benign, totally obvious, and completely unactionable statements like: “Our crumbling roads and bridges need our attention, and they need it now.”  “Unemployment is an issue that produces and sustains poverty, and that cycle must be broken.”  “Every child deserves a good education. A good education is not a privilege, it must be a guaranteed right available to all.”  And finally, one of the guests said, “Those without adequate healthcare suffer needlessly, and in the richest nation in the world, there is no place for that suffering, and we must do something about it.”

The host then said, “These aren’t interviews, they’re political theater. They’re vague campaign clips focused on issues that polling data suggests is important.”  They all agreed that the original show format plan was good, but that the dictates of the guests rendered it contrived, constrained, and worthless.   The show never aired, but the experience offers a sober and solid lesson for leaders.

Identifying and defining a problem is essential, if you want to solve it.  Stating your position demonstrates your awareness and sensitivity.  Providing strategic, vision-oriented insights can lead to a strong mission.  And finally, visions and missions must be addressed through tactical leadership to set objectives, develop plans, coordinate resources, and guide initiatives to get something done.

Sharing problems and concerns becomes meaningless, condescending, and patronizing, rhetoric if you don’t share how you plan to make progress toward solutions.  Anyone can identify problems; real leaders work at solving them!


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