Leadership styles and communication: Tactician vs Inspirer

January 8th, 2008
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Here’s an interesting post on Found|READ on being a “Tactician” vs being an “Inspirer”, and how that is reflected in the presentation styles of Clinton and Obama respectively, with links to video of both. This could provide some great class discussion, and Obama’s speech is masterful as always.

Also interesting is how Obama focuses his message: it’s about the audience. Rarely do you see a politician decline to talk about himself or herself. In Obama’s message the key word is “you”.

Another comment on Obama’s communication style:

Yet if Clinton’s answers come off as well-intended lectures, Obama is offering soaring sermons and generational opportunity. In 1960, the articulate Adlai Stevenson compared his own oratory unfavorably with John F. Kennedy’s. “Do you remember,” Stevenson said, “that in classical times when Cicero had finished speaking, the people said, ‘How well he spoke,’ but when Demosthenes had finished speaking, the people said, ‘Let us march.’ ” At this hour, Obama is the Democrats’ Demosthenes.

Intercultural communication note: the context of these speeches is a political campaign in the US, so naturally there is a fair amount of nationalistic…I guess “fervor” could be the word. This may be off putting to some students, especially in Europe, where the culture of political communication is more emotionally restrained in my experience (and read the comments here.)

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Rock star linguist slugfest!

October 19th, 2006
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Pinker vs. Lakoff is really pretty entertaining.

Usually linguists are a retiring bunch, but there are a few who write bestsellers and/or write on politics and become famous beyond the linguistics community. There’s a fascinating – and fairly bloody – debate going on now between two of these rock stars*: Steven Pinker and George Lakoff, which started with Pinker’s brutal review of Lakoff’s latest book.

Pinker’s a Chomsky/generative grammer guy. Lakoff’s done some interesting stuff with generative semantics that has some anti-Chomsky elements, and has recently become an advisor to the Democrats in the US on linguistic “framing” as a communication strategy, as outlined in his best-seller Don’t Think of an Elephant.

Lakoff just published again, Whose Freedom?, and Pinker savaged it in a review. Lakoff replies to Pinker, gloves off. They both accuse the other of straw-man arguments. It’s a very interesting exchange, and one that takes place within the nexus of linguistics, psychology, and political philosophy, and it really makes one wish there were more hours in the day so as to dive into it and learn enough to take sides.

*The uber-rock star in the linguistics field is of course Chomsky– arguably the most influential intellectual alive, merging and revolutionizing linguistics and psychology almost 50 years ago, then turning to politics, resulting in an equal measure of worship and hatred among his readers, still working and publishing, and, amazingly, on the best-seller list recently at age 77 after Hugo Chavez recommended** one of his books at a UN meeting last month. Chomsky’s in my personal pantheon even though I think much of his political thinking is unhinged.

** Not that Chavez was discussing deep grammar. He was being his usual bombastic self waving around Hegemony or Survival (Chomsky’s recent anti-US tome). This was just before he crossed himself, noting that “The devil came right here… And it still smells of sulfur today” referring to Bush’s speech the previous day.

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Two thoughts on politics

July 29th, 2006
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Thought #1
Of all the valuable messages from Marjora Carter’s TED presentation on her urban “green development” project (discussed here), my favorite line is this one:

I do not expect individuals, corporations, or government to make the world a better place because it is right or moral…I know it’s the bottom line or one’s perception of it that motivates people in the end. I’m interested in what I like to call the triple bottom line that sustainable development can produce, developments that have the potential to create positive returns for all concerned: the developers, government, and the community.

Tom Friedman (author of The World is Flat, which is required reading for BE professionals) said the same thing on a Sunday talkshow last week, that Green means global competitive advantage, and it’s in our best economic interest to get serious and innovative about the environment.

Thought #2
Via Arts and Letters Daily, “The collapse of the Doha Round is a matter of evil and idiocy, a case of outrageous incompetence, so bad that it verges on criminality” …as another example of unadulterated hypocrisy by the US and EU governments, this one can’t be beat.

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