Those Thin, Blurred Lines

Ken Goldstein on what to watch for in debates.

This article originally appeared at Corporate Intelligence Radio.

The more I watch this year’s election unfold — especially the Presidential Debates — the more I am reminded of that old axiom I wrote about early in the life of this blog, “Our greatest strengths are our greatest weaknesses.”

Campaigning for office is no small trick.  A candidate enters the race with a set of convictions, values,and ideas, as well as a personal communication style and inescapable personality quirks.  That individual has to maintain authenticity while winning support from those who might not be all that easy to convince. We play by the rules in a democracy of representation, where majority rule determines our elected officials and they determine our laws, ostensibly voicing the will of the people.  Yet we also seek leadership from aspiring candidates and those elected, to help the electorate understand and embrace new concepts and styles they may not initially support, but leaders believe they may come to support.

How jolly is that?  Be yourself, but not so much that non-supporters rule you out, then enact the will of the people, while helping guide them to points of view they don’t necessarily embrace.  Lots of contradiction.  You’d wonder why anyone would want to do it — yet hardly unique to electoral politics.

Anywhere there are people, there are politics.  If you don’t think you have office politics all around you on the job, perhaps you work under a cone of silence.  There are politics in families, politics in communities, politics among friends.  Our very individuality — those special and defining ideas and elements that make us unique — ensure that we will not always agree with one other individual, let alone a pack.  John Stuart Mill famously wrote about the Tyranny of the Majority, one of the more challenging aspects of democracy, where a single brave voice is sometimes necessary to dissent from common agreement and be willing to be right, however unpopular.

And there you have it, the individual in conflict who has to win support, yet be true to self or risk critique of being a phony.  That individual — whether President Obama, Governor Romney, Vice President Biden, or Representative Ryan — knows most of all that their greatest strengths are surely their greatest weaknesses.  As I have watched them in the debates, well-prepared but under extreme pressure, I have seem them dart in real-time between polar opposites, showing us who they are and what they think, but attempting to course correct for acceptable balance where too much polarity will ensure ultimate failure.  Here’s a short list of what I am seeing push and pull for the proper outcome, like so many other people I know in uncountable contexts:

Confidence vs. Humility.

Courage vs. Recklessness.

Introspection vs. Salesmanship.

Creativity vs. Predictability.

Flexibility vs. Consistency.

Idealism vs. Realism.

Humor vs. Gravitas.

Accountability vs. Deniability.

Talking vs. Listening.

Watching vs. Acting.

Thinking vs. Doing.

Responsiveness vs. Perspective.

Candor vs. Diplomacy.

Attributes as well as ideas always create balancing acts, with true and effective balance so rare, so hard to find.  Perhaps that’s why it is easy to point the finger at our elected officials with accusations of their flip-flopping and being two-faced.  They try to be themselves, yet they try to appeal to those who might find them objectionable — just like the rest of us in our working and non-working interactions.

No one wants to elect or work for a hypocrite or a say-anything, do-anything, be-anything competitor.  Yet maybe we are missing some of the point, that there are those among us who can find balance, slide across the middle and back again, and master the manner of dialing back some of their strengths while bolstering their weaknesses as one and the same act.  Tough to even think about, but where you see a true winner, it is possible you may be seeing someone so in touch with their diverse attributes that they cause you to embrace the unfamiliar and unsuspecting in ways you hadn’t imagined.  Call that person a master politician — or someone who knows how to lead by bridging the resistance of those around them and inspiring the imagination that builds a following.

What are some of the Yin-Yang qualities that you observe in the candidates, good and bad?  In those with whom you work?  In yourself?  Please share them, let’s see what the list looks like when we build it together as recognition, with a keen focus on impact, implication, and outcome.  Where style is content, look for the bridge to consistency and authenticity.

 

Photo—ell brown/Flickr

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About Ken Goldstein

Ken Goldstein most recently was Chairman & CEO of SHOP.COM. Previously he was Executive Vice President & Managing Director of Disney Online, and VP of Entertainment & Education for Broderbund Software. He currently advises start-ups and established companies on brands, creative talent, e-commerce, and digital media strategy. His first novel, This Is Rage, was recently published by The Story Plant. Ken is on the boards of Thrift Books LLC and Good Men Media, Inc.

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