The current president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, could not be re-elected so his Vice-President, Richard M. Nixon, was the Republican Party’s candidate. The Democrat candidate was a junior Senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy.
The election campaigns saw a ‘first’… the first presidential debates held on television. Broadcast on radio as well, the interesting point for me is that radio listeners, apparently, thought that Nixon had won the debate while people who watched the debate on television felt that Kennedy had prevailed.
This was not the case for the second and third debates which Nixon was judged to have won.
Why the turnaround in fortunes?
Well, in the first debate Nixon refused makeup, had not completely got over a period of sickness and had been campaigning up to the last minute. Kennedy was well-rested, tanned and confident. In the latter debates, Nixon had woken up to the needs of television.
So… what’s my point where leadership is concerned?
It’s to do with the balance between style and substance. You could say, because of the nature of the medium, that radio listeners only had the substance to focus on, because they could not see the style. They thought Nixon had won. But TV viewers gave it to Kennedy because they could also be influenced by style.
Now, in terms of importance I’d rather have substance over style any day… and it’s a pity that we humans are so shallow as to be influenced by any veneer obscuring that substance.
However, communication is said to be 80% non-verbal, so you cannot do as Nixon did in the first debate and just rely on the power of your arguments.
And the moral is? If your leadership style is occasionally guilty of intellectual arrogance and you are dismissive of the requirements of style, then you might fail to get you points across. However, I would also add that if your focus is purely on presentation… well, then the substance had better be there too, because that’s what will count in the long run.
Tags: american presidential election democrat candidate dwight d eisenhower election campaigns fortunes intellectual arrogance john f kennedy junior senator leadership style makeup president dwight d eisenhower president richard m nixon presidential debates radio listeners republican party richard m nixon substance style television broadcast turnaround tv viewers veneer