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Leadership: Hillary’s Laugh and Rudy’s Phone Call – The Inauthenticity Sweepstakes

What are we to make of Hillary Clinton’s recent tendency to laugh loudly and fully when being peppered with questions by the media and Rudolph Giuliani’s acceptance of a cell phone call from his wife, Judith, in the middle of an important speech to the NRA?

What are we to make of Hillary Clinton’s recent tendency to laugh loudly and fully when being peppered with questions by the media and Rudolph Giuliani’s acceptance of a cell phone call from his wife, Judith, in the middle of an important speech to the NRA?

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When I saw Hillary Clinton on Face The Nation last Sunday and she went off on her laughing bender, seemingly unable to curtail her giggling, I was disturbed. It seemed programmed and unreal but I didn’t know for sure. It wasn’t until I watched all 5 of the Sunday morning shows and saw that she did something similar on each program (though Face The Nation was the worst), that I became certain this was a tactic, not the overtired adrenaline rush behavior of someone who may have been up all night preparing.

I had a similar reaction when Rudy Giuliani took that call from his wife. Those of us in the New York Metro area have many memories of Mayor Giuliani (no one called him Rudy – no one would have dared!), none of them even remotely resembling sweet-talking a loved one like he did at the NRA. No, the mayor’s modus operandi was tough, nasty, take no prisoners and ask questions later. And, incidentally, that was not a bad posture for a mayor of what was then a very dangerous city. So to hear him speak in saccharine tones to his wife was enough to gag me. That he took the call in the midst of a major, formal speech to a constituency that has strong doubts about him was nothing short of bizarre.

That these outbursts were staged at all was hugely risky. Couple them with two people who are ill suited to play-acting and they were bound to fail.

What these two candidates – and most of the other front-runners – consistently fail to recognize is that voters are longing for the real deal. Will one of them say one thing that he or she really, deep in his or her heart of hearts, believes, PLEASE? Don’t they or their campaign teams realize that these types of diversions only deepen the hole these candidates have dug for themselves? (Hint: If the media is still covering it more than a week later, it was a bad move.)

Of course, both Clinton and Giuliani bring considerable baggage to the campaign trail and thus, they are desperate to find ways to humanize themselves. This is not the way to do it, however. Aides’ protests notwithstanding, these were poor choices for them both.

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Hillary’s lack of charisma and difficulty coming across as anything close to being warm or having a sense of humor must be driving her advisors to distraction. Outbursts of laughter –- now labeled by some as “the cackle” –- cannot soften up her image and actually worsen it (only witches cackle). What might do the trick is if she would speak with passion about something, anything. She seems to be passionate about health care, says she loves talking about it, so why not give it a try with that? Or tell us a mother/daughter story, something personal. Hillary, we hardly know ya!

Rudy is just not the lovey-dovey type and no amount of staged interruptions during major speeches to speak to Judy, (whom he repeatedly referred to as “Dear” making him sound like he was 100 years old) will make voters think anything else. He should stick to his law and order persona; it works. Even when he told that woman in one of his audiences to “leave his family alone” (she was hammering him about why his kids don’t even like him), he sure wasn’t making nice, but it was pure, authentic Rudy and we appreciated it.

Politicians often make the mistake of thinking voters are not smart, that they can be fooled by these types of antics. We business people must watch and learn. Clients, too, long for authenticity in relationships with vendors and others they deal with. They want to feel as if their trust is well-placed. Trying to be something or someone we’re not such as behaving in a way that is inconsistent or off-brand only serves as an excuse for a client to go elsewhere, especially in today’s ultra-competitive marketplace.

As you climb higher business and the field narrows, it often is a choice between you and the other player, just like a presidential election. Being yourself, speaking with confidence and passion, letting people on to a little bit of your personal life by being carefully self-disclosing — these are critical relationship-builders. Since the time of JFK, the candidate who is the better communicator and who connects best with voters has always won.

So do you think the ultimate nominees will get this or will we continue to see more of the inauthenticity sweepstakes? It’s going to be a long (and interesting) election season. Stay tuned.

Ruth Sherman • Ruth Sherman Associates, LLC • Greenwich, CT • www.ruthsherman.com

About the author

Ruth Sherman, M.A., is a strategic communications consultant focusing on preparing business leaders, politicians, celebrities, and small business entrepreneurs to leverage critical public communications including keynote speeches, webcasts, investor presentations, road shows, awards presentations, political campaigns and media contact. Her clients hail from the A-list of international business including General Electric, JP Morgan (NY, London, Frankfurt), Timex Group, Deloitte and Dubai World.

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