President Obama waded into the treacherous waters of Middle East politics last week with his speech to the Muslim world in Cairo. In so doing, he gave us a simple lesson in bridge-building leadership that we can learn from. What made it a success were words and ideas that valued honesty, fairness and respect in an effort to find common ground – no easy feat in a region torn by division and violence for more than 50 years.
President Obama’s recent speech before a joint session of Congress last week couldn’t have contrasted more sharply with the rebuttal given by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. But the stark differences in style and political substance were only part of what set these two speeches apart. The other key difference was the choice of words and images they used to build a “reality” for the audience that they could easily comprehend, given the complexity of our economic difficulties.
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.