Wisdom, in Leadership


A short excerpt from our upcoming book, Wisdom in Buddhism. Being truthful and thinking, deeply, before speaking, is a fundamental skill leaders need to learn if they wish to be considered 'wise.' This excerpt is part of a much longer article dealing with the need for wisdom in political and business leaders.

Effective Public Communication Skills

One does not need to be a ‘great orator’ in order to be an effective public communicator. When we think of great orators or the past eighty years we might conjure up names widely recognizable such as Winston Churchill (43), Franklin D. Roosevelt (44), John F. Kennedy (45), Ronald Reagan (46), Mahatma Gandhi (47), Marie Colvin (48), Martin Luther King Jr.(49) or Betty Friedan, yet, these men and women were not born with the innate ability to stand and deliver speeches that were moving, powerful, significant and transformational.

These people, along with their policy advisors, consultants and speech writers, had to sit down and work on what was to be said. They practiced and rehearsed every line. In some cases they recorded themselves so they could both see and hear what their message would look like. They were rarely confident in their abilities, although their resolve was unshakable. In the case of FDR, his wife, Eleanor, occasionally wondered whether her husband would be able to overcome his fear of public speaking and actually deliver the speeches he’d laboured so long over. She found the long pauses in some of his speeches almost unbearable and wondered if, indeed, he would go on.

As mentioned earlier, sometimes coming up with wise thoughts and words is a matter of sitting down and giving it deep and concentrated thought. It rarely comes naturally. Instead it’s the result of concentrated effort and practice. It needs the ability to stay on message and not go off script in order to deliver a focused speech that is clear and concise.

In some leaders, we hear clear, unambiguous messages in their public addresses. Churchill was not unclear in what he expected of the citizens of Britain when he delivered, “We Shall Fight on the Beaches.” Martin Luther King Jr. was not unclear when he delivered, “I Have A Dream,” in 1963. On the other hand we shake our heads when we hear rambling, off script, unfocused and confusing messages from other leaders. Donald Trump, speaking in South Korea on November 7, 2017 is a notable example of extemporaneous public speaking, gone awry.

When addressing the public, it’s rarely a good idea to go off script, ad-lib, speak extemporaneously or make it up on the fly. It’s much more wise to take the time to learn the speech, maybe help write it, fully understand it, fact check it, refer to notes on stage and not try to impress your audience with your off-the-cuff witticisms.

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43. For many, the speech given June 4, 1940 (commonly called “We Shall Fight on the Beaches); in the British House of Commons was Churchill’s greatest oration.

44. Delivered at Roosevelt's inauguration in Washington on March 4 1933, his “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself” speech, raised the spirits of the American people and helped lift the country out of a depression. Of course his wide-sweeping economic changes and reforms to the free market system also had a lot to do with that.

45. At his inauguration in 1961, JFK delivered his “Ask not What Your Country Can Do For You,” speech and is still considered, by many to be his greatest speech.

46. Delivered 12 June 1987, in West Berlin, at the Brandenburg Gate, the “Tear Down This Wall” speech given by Ronald Reagan has become one of the great speeches of this last half century, although it was not particularly well received at the time.

47. Gandhi’s speech of August 8, 1942 called for determined, but peaceful/passive resistance against the occupation of India by the English.

48. In “Eulogy for Fallen War Correspondents,” 2010 Colvin delivers a powerful speech in which she tells her audience that, despite the sanitized version of war offered by the Defence Department, war hasn’t changed much for hundreds of years. It’s still “Craters. Burned houses. Mutilated bodies. Women weeping for children and husbands. Men for their wives, mothers children.”

49. MLKs “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered August 28, 1963 at Lincoln Memorial March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was a clarion call to end racism in America and is now considered a watershed moment in the Civil Rights movement.

50. Frieden, The first president of the National Organization for Women farewell speech, 1970 her call for women to go on strike against inequity in pay inspired 50,000 women in NYC alone to heed her call. The strike spread to 42 states.

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