Changing The Method Does Not Clarify The Message

Changing The Method Does Not Clarify The Message


Leonard Zwelling

On two successive days, President Biden has taken to print media to clarify his position on major issues. In The Wall Street Journal on May 31 he discussed inflation and on June 1, Ukraine (above from The New York Times).

Someone on the President’s staff seems to think that by writing down on paper what he says in person and which is transmitted by the electronic media will help clarify the Presidents’ stance on these important matters, outline his plan to make things better, and in these ways improve his standing with the American people. He’s wrong.

The only way the American people will believe that the President actually has a plan to best inflation is when inflation abates. When every time you go to the gas station, you watch the numbers in front of .99 go up, you know the President’s plan is not working.

Likewise, the notion that somehow our flood of financial and military aid into Ukraine is not a proxy war between the U.S. and Russia is ridiculous. Of course, it is and Mr. Putin treats it as such. Until Mr. Biden likens the mind set of Vladimir Putin in 2022 to that of John Kennedy in 1962, (offensive force on the border; Russians in Cuba in 1962; NATO next door in 2022), Biden will not understand why Russia did what it did in Ukraine nor understand how to negotiate with Mr. Putin to end the war. Mr. Biden thinks adding Sweden and Finland to NATO will intimidate Putin. In fact, it just riles him up more. To end the war, which ought to be the goal here, Mr. Biden either should say to Putin you cannot have the Donbas or any other piece of Ukraine and be ready to escalate the American aid to Ukraine dramatically or begin to negotiate land for peace. He cannot give advanced missile systems to Ukraine and expect Putin to quit the shelling of innocent civilians. What’s the goal? If it is a free Ukraine—all of it—then make that clear. If that is the case, I see no way for the war to end any time soon. If Mr. Zelenskyy is willing to cede land to Russia (a huge mistake), that’s a different set of negotiations. So far, no one seems to have a plan to end this mess.

Changing the media in which the message is garbled does not clarify the message. It’s just more noise.

The same is true at MD Anderson right now. With an ever-expanding group of minimally accomplished executives, Dr. Pisters will undoubtedly continue to talk about what he’s doing, what he’s accomplished, and his plans to do more. In actuality, his only claim to fame in his tenure as president is the successful (thus far) handling of the Covid crisis for which he gets high marks. But what has he done for you lately or for that matter what has he done to advance Anderson’s science, improve the clinical care, and develop new programs to advance the Anderson mission?

Is the science at Anderson better? Is clinical care more research-oriented? How’s fund raising going? What about new leadership in areas of academic need? Are all vacant (or acting) Division Head and department chair positions filled? If not, why not? Surely Dr. Pisters has had sufficient time to do that and not just with internal candidates.

It’s always easy and internally deceptive for a leader to think he or she has clarified his or her message simply by adding a new slide show, making a public service announcement video, or holding another town hall without audience questions. It’s a farce.

If leadership wants to take a new direction, launch a new initiative, or change the course of its organization, it takes a truly new message, not the same old stuff in a new package. Tying it in a new bow does not make it any better or any more effective. I learned this when I needed to make a change as a leader. The biggest progress I ever made was changing from altering the message to listening more. Biden and Pisters ought to consider this strategy.

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