Obama’s Words: Writing Lessons for Tough Times

Most of us cannot deliver a speech like President Obama. But we certainly can learn a lesson from him on the power and impact of the spoken word, whether you’re addressing thousands or just a handful of people.

In one shining moment, a well-executed speech brings people together on an issue or idea and summons them clearly and persuasively to act.  Not so coincidentally, this is a fundamental requirement of leadership, from the chief executive to line managers throughout an organization.

As the president has shown, words matter, especially during difficult times. He has demonstrated that carefully chosen words, expressed at the right time, will guide and reassure people, helping them understand difficult challenges, bringing them together to build a common purpose and generating hope that the challenges will be met.   If this is not a lesson for beleaguered executives today, I don’t know what is.

In this context, I urge such leaders – or those tasked with crafting messages for them – to tear a page from the Obama playbook. It’s pretty simple, really:

• Be plain and honest about the difficulties as soon as possible – explain what has happened and why.

• Speak in terms of “we.”  The president almost never uses “I” in his speeches.  We’re in this together and we need all hands on deck.

• Outline your plans clearly and inclusively, and ask for feedback and ideas. The only way to solve problems is together, which also happens to make change less frightening.

• Make it abundantly clear (if you believe it) that better days are ahead if we stay focused and together, even if you’re not sure when those days will come.  As President Obama has shown, hope is a very powerful emotion. People want to be hopeful.

Because of the president’s skills in following these simple rules, recent polls show that the American people are willing to be patient to solve our deep problems – yet, or maybe because, they are hopeful.   It’s a pretty good example of leadership in tough times for anyone at the helm.

And it all starts with the right words.

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