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Lessons from the debates

On Tuesday night, Americans get a KM case in point: Bush against Gore in a "debate." (Disclaimer: What follows is intended to be only inadvertently partisan.) Among the important issues to be settled are:

• What is the role of personality in leadership? Does a leader have to be likable? Is policy enough?

• Are facts enough?

• On what basis do we decide which facts to believe? How much of learning is the inevitable reinforcement of what we already know?

• How radical can the disjunction be between image and self before we move from posing to social psychosis?

• Does sex count? Does sexuality have a place in one's judgment? Can one trust the free world in the hands of someone who's never gotten laid? (This is actually a question for Ralph Nader.)

• What's the difference between critiquing and criticizing?

• If personality is a key determinant, why are personal attacks considered out of bounds?

• How many presidential elections have been determined on the basis of body language? Is that appropriate?

• What is the best way to appear unscripted: to rehearse scripts that mimic improvisation ("Try pausing for a two count, rapidly shift your eyes back and forth as if thinking, and begin with the word 'Well'") or by being unscripted? Can the audience tell the difference? (Consider using a Turing Test here.)

• What does making a mistake tell us about a human being other than that she or he is a human being? What is the price of being wrong in public?

• Is it possible to listen while standing behind a lectern? To change one's mind?

• At what point does appearing like a leader require one to cease acting like a human being?

Now, apply all these questions to your management team's next communication.

(Note: Lord knows I love hearing from y'all -- self@evident.com -- but please don't assume that I'm implying certain answers to these questions and then argue with me that Gore isn't a phony and Bush isn't a moron. (Oh, and by the way, they're both phonies but Bush is a genuine moron.)

David Weinberger is editor of Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization.

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