Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States, was dubbed ‘The Great Communicator’ during his tenure for a potent ability to use storytelling, word pictures and empathy to bring Americans along with his policy choices. He acknowledged that he borrowed heavily from the communications skills of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd president, who led in a different time and in a different direction. Skilled communicators as individuals, their ‘greatness came’ as a result of both the context of the times in which they led and the clarity of purpose that guided their efforts. As we continue to navigate the trifecta of pandemic, economic recession and civil unrest, it seems important to highlight and celebrate some of the most effective communicators in our time. What follows are my nominees – I hope you’ll suggest others in your comments.
Dr. Anthony Fauci
Whether people like what he is prescribing or not, it is impossible to discount what our nation’s top infectious disease expert says. That he delivers (mostly) bad news with such empathy and good humor suggests he would be the ideal clinician to share a grim diagnosis with a patient. That he has devoted his career to leading the fight against multiple scary outbreaks gives him unrivaled credibility at this very scary time.
He is the founder of Poetic Voice, an actor, motivational speaker, corporate trainer and Grammy nominee. He is in so many ways the personification of the disruption we are experiencing across cultures, industries and communities, having arisen from poetry slams (2x national winner) into a sought-after storyteller. At a time when hyper-partisanship has created increasingly siloed channels for communicating, he inspires in front of an extraordinary range of audiences.
I will admit that I have been a groupie of this German Chancellor for years and stuck with her when many of her countrymen/women felt it was time for a change. Fact is, I only took a couple years of German in high school, so haven’t really heard or understood much of her messaging directly. But with body language alone, she has broadcast steady leadership, steely resolve and compassion. We have all benefitted from her confidence-building leadership in Europe, as human migration and health of the planet impact us all.
New Zealand may seem to some too small and too remote a place to provide best practices for the rest of the world, but this Prime Minister has shown us what authentic and effective political leadership can look like. Attending to science, she took courageous action in the face of skeptics, spoke to her countrymen and women with empathy and straightforward language. “Please be strong, be kind and united against COVID-19,” she shared over Facebook, speaking softly to avoid waking her sleeping child in a nearby room. Within three months, New Zealand had effectively eliminated the pandemic from within its borders.
There are a number of good anchors on American television (and ok, some not that good), but Gayle sits in a key chair at this moment in our history and seems to grasp both the power of her position and how to use it responsibly. She can get interviews others perhaps could not – but she plays each and every encounter as the serious journalist she is, whoever the subject. Even in her banter with on-air colleagues, she seems to understand how important it is to be authentic in these times.
At a time when representing a brand carries significant reputational risks, with cultural norms being assessed and adapting constantly, Walmart’s CEO has shown remarkable capacity and willingness to both ‘talk the talk’ and ‘walk the walk’ of leading one of the world’s largest companies. From stances on gun sales to balancing stakeholder interests, from climate change to systemic racism, he has been a calm, consistent voice grounded in the humble roots of the rural retailer and yet confidently setting a high bar for other business executives to step up.
Who is inspiring you these days?