Iraq, Katrina, And The Leadership Of George W. Bush

The combination of the War in Iraq and the dramatic events swirling around the aftermath of Katrina may deal a serious blow to the presidency of George W. Bush.  The author offers a way -- maybe the only way -- the president can save his presidency.

By Brent Filson - 2005

In the wake of Katrina, George W. Bush is facing the most serious crisis of his presidency, and only one thing can save him from becoming the lamest of lame ducks, the Leadership Talk.
The convergence of American disapproval with the war in Iraqi with the devastation caused by Katrina is setting up a perfect storm of events that might result in sweeping public condemnation of his presidency. 
Of course, Bush had nothing to do with Katrina; but if the public believes that both preventive steps and after-storm responses were lacking due to the diversion of money, manpower, and equipment to Iraq, then Bush might have his approval ratings hit rock bottom and remain there throughout the remainder of his term.
It may seem frivolous to apply the all-importance of the Leadership Talk to an American presidency, but when one really understands what the Leadership Talk is all about, you'll see why the heartwood of all great leadership is the Leadership Talk. 
Look at it this way, the vast majority of leaders I've encountered are repeatedly doing one thing that screws up their jobs and careers.  They're giving presentations and speeches, not Leadership Talks!  Bush's televised message right after Katrina hit was a presentation, not a Leadership Talk.  He was simply delivering a lot of facts and not making that deep, human emotional connection with the American people, which he would have done if he had given a Leadership Talk. 
And when he came to the scene of such utter devastation and misery and anguish pleas for help and chuckled about his wild days in New Orleans, do you think he was giving a Leadership Talk?
There is a hierarchy of verbal persuasion when it comes to leadership.  The lowest levels are speeches and presentations, which primarily communicate information.  The highest and most effective level is the Leadership Talk.  The Leadership Talk does something much more than simply get information across, it has the leader establish a deep, human, emotional connection with the audience.  Its in the realm of that connection leaders get the best results.  
With America in a crisis, the public is hungry for leadership, for the kind of leadership that resonates with their deeply held needs.  But if the leadership does not resonate, the backlash will be profound. 
The Leadership Talk is not some spinmeister puff.  It's not a corny pep talk. It's the very foundation of great leadership.  Throughout history, whenever people needed to do great things, one thing had to take place, a leader had to go to the people and speak from the heart.  George W. Bush has to go to people and give Leadership Talks.  He must share his heartfelt vision for nation in a heartfelt way.  He has to motivate them to make shared sacrifices.  He did that after 9/11.  Remember his standing in the rubble, with a bullhorn and the firefighters and he saying, ‘... the world will hear from you!' Clearly, he can do it again.
The president may get a temporary bump in the polls, as presidents invariably do after the country enters a crisis.  However, if most people feel he's disconnected from them, if he can't communicate a connection, if he can't give Leadership Talks, if he's out there simply giving presentations, his ratings will plummet to record lows, and he'll become a president without a country.


2005© The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

The author of 23 books, Brent Filson's recent books are, THE LEADERSHIP TALK: THE GREATEST LEADERSHIP TOOL and 101 WAYS TO GIVE GREAT LEADERSHIP TALKS. He is founder and president of The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. – Celebrating 25 years of helping leaders of top companies worldwide achieve outstanding results every day. Sign up for his free leadership e-zine and get his FREE report "7 Steps To Leadership Mastery"