Presidential Debate: a Lesson in How Not to Lead

Wednesday, October 8th, 2008

Did you see the US presidential debate last night? They both lost.

In a town hall forum, there is an opportunity to speak directly to individuals and answer their questions. Except for one or two examples of human contact, both candidates failed at that.

The lesson for leaders of change is this: when people ask you a direct question about the change, “answer it. Don’t use the question as a springboard for prepared talking points. Answer the question and then move to broader themes.

Answering the question does four things: 1. It gives the person an answer, of course, 2. It lets the audience know that you are willing to address tough questions directly without fluff or spin, 3. You make it easier for others to speak, and 4. If you are candid, direct, and show that you can connect with the questioner, you begin to build a stronger relationship.

As I watched the debate, I thought that Bill Clinton would have had these two men for lunch. Maybe McCain nor Obama could ever say, “I feel your pain,” as Clinton did in a town hall debate, but they could at least answer the question.