Leadership is only part vision. The other part is the ability to communicate that vision. President Obama is failing to lead America into a new era of health care reform not for lack of vision, but because he's not talking about it properly. Worse, he's starting to sound like "just another Democrat."
Too many Democratic politicians suffer from an under-diagnosed and often incurable affliction -- Democrats Disease; that insatiable need to always want to "correct the facts" and "set the record straight." Democrats often seem more concerned with being technically right than advancing their cause. Though it is important to have all your t's crossed and i's dotted, the facts never inspire people to rally for a cause ... which is exactly what the President needs America to do.
What inspires people to raise their hands to volunteer to make change happen is the feeling of being a part of something larger than any individual. A noble cause. What's more, that noble cause must be stated in terms that people can relate to -- i.e. themselves. Ronald Reagan, a great communicator, understood this better than most. He was the first president to invite a "hero" to sit in the balcony during the State of the Union address to personify the benefits of a policy -- a tradition that has continued in every single State of the Union since.
In his recent speech to a joint session of Congress, Obama started to make his case for national health care reform by laying out some numbers. "We are the only democracy," he implored, "the only advanced democracy on Earth -- the only wealthy nation -- that allows such hardship for millions of its people. There are now more than 30 million American citizens who cannot get coverage. In just a two-year period, one in every three Americans goes without health care coverage at some point. And every day, 14,000 Americans lose their coverage. In other words, it can happen to anyone."
Though I appreciate that he is trying to tell Americans that we need to do this because it could happen to you, unfortunately, all those big numbers get in the way of the message. What most people actually heard was, "you have to be responsible for giving insurance to 30 million people." No wonder there is so much animosity to such an idea -- it sounds big, expensive and nearly impossible.
More important than the number of people without insurance or what the statistics might prove, is the answer to the question why? Why should I bother? Charity and goodwill on a massive scale are not good enough reasons to take the risky journey into the unknown. This cause can only be championed with relevant, human language, not statistical reasons to act.
Obama defended the fuzzy (and dare I say socialist sounding) language of a "public option" by saying that fewer than 5% of people would need it. If that is the case, then he should have used language that communicated why we need a public option in the first place. Call it, "assistance for extreme cases," for example. Without any statistics, this revised language clearly communicates that such a system would not be a financial burden on the general population. Facts and stats should only ever be used to reinforce a message, not define it.
The president has a clear vision of what American could look like if his plans are enacted. The irony is that he has had to spend too much time to set the facts straight because he wasted so much time making a rational case for "national health care reform," instead of rallying the country to look forwards and find a way "to provide a doctor for every child." Clear, simple language that explains why this matters to America.
Simon Sinek is the author of Start With Why, How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Action, due on shelves October 29th. For more, visit simonsinek.com.