I don’t often use the word “ought” but I’m making an exception: if you’re a leader, you really ought to read Peggy Noonan’s column Declarations in the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal. Her insights are consistently exceptional.
This past weekend she wrote about Barack Obama and his speaking skills. She agrees that he speaks in a compelling and appealing manner and then offers this: “But, in fact, when you go on the internet and get a transcript of the speech and print it out and read it–that is, when you remove Mr. Obama from the words and take them on their own–you see the speech wasn’t all that interesting, and was in fact high-class boilerplate.”
She goes on to say that this was not true of John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King.
She questions if Obama is eloquent. Heck, I’ve said he’s eloquent. She says not. “Eloquence is deep thought expressed in clear words. With Mr. Obama the deep thought part is missing. What is present are sentiments.”
There is much for all of us as leader to learn here. First, Noonan doesn’t instantly buy popular opinion. She questions it and takes a second harder look. This is good practice.
Second, she is careful with language. While you may not agree with her, it is difficult to find fault with her argument because she is careful to define how she is using words. She acknowledges the importance of emotion but goes beyond it to substantiate her point of view.
Finally, we would all be well served to have our own speeches transcribed to see how they read. Most of us would aspire be being eloquent, but I personally want to express important thoughts and not just compelling sentiment.