In Leadership, Appearances Matter

Posted: Dec 06, 2012 12:01 AM
In Leadership, Appearances Matter

Last week, I was exiting my neighborhood Starbucks when I happened to overhear a middle-aged man talking to a younger man who appeared to be his son.

"It matters what you wear," the older man told the younger, whose clothes reflected a cross of grunge and goth. "When you go out with your friends on the weekend, you can dress one way; when you are going to a job, it matters what you wear."

While many might argue that appearance should not matter, we know in reality that it does. Expectations vary by subculture. What is acceptable for a musician may not work in an investment-banking firm on Wall Street. But the buttoned-up, investment-banking look might not go over well in an art deco environment.

Appearance matters in politics, too. Not simply personal appearance, but the appearance of the party and the organization itself. Is it homogeneous and reflective of a bygone era, or does it represent the heterogeneity of the American population?

Last week, my column, "If No One Goes with You, You Cannot Win," concluded: "Republicans need to communicate a compelling vision in order to win the hearts, minds and votes of the American people. This vision needs to be inviting to others, not off-putting or offensive.

"This vision would provide a framework for the tactics. Will others want to follow us? Only if the party offers a compelling vision, one that is inclusive and inviting. At every possible point, the question should be: Are we articulating a vision that people will hear and respond to?

"In the end, it's not enough to have the right policies or the right moral values. It comes down to who wants to go with you. If no one goes with you, you cannot win."

In speeches on Tuesday at the Kemp Foundation Leadership Award Dinner in Washington, D.C., Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., offered a compelling vision for the party, one that is inclusive and inviting.

I'd like to think that my column inspired them both, but I'll accept the explanation that great minds think alike.

Limit the size of government, grow the middle class and ensure opportunity for all were the themes of the night.

Ryan briefly mentioned the recent campaign but rapidly moved on. "For all of us, the work goes on," he said. "We must carry on and keep fighting for the American Idea - the belief that everyone should have the opportunity to rise ... to escape from poverty ... and to achieve whatever your God-given talents and hard work enable you to achieve."

Articulating the Republican vision is an area where Ryan sees opportunity for improvement: "We have a compassionate vision based on ideas that work - but sometimes we don't do a good job of laying out that vision," he said. "We need to do better."

He urged the party to focus on what brings Americans together rather than on what divides them. "We must speak to the aspirations and anxieties of every American. I believe we can turn the engines of upward mobility back on, so that no one is left out from the promise of America."

Rubio talked about the middle class and the role of government. "Government has a role to play. And we must make sure it does its part. But it's a supporting role: to help create the conditions that enable prosperity in our private economy. ... It is not the ever-expanding reach of government, but rather having access to the benefits of (a) thriving economy that allows the poor to rise into the middle class. Not by making rich people poorer, but by making poor people richer."

"To do that we need a limited and effective government," Rubio continued. "...Big government has never worked. The promise of more government as the answer to all our problems is easy to sell. But when it is put in practice, it fails every time. Big government has never been able to create and sustain a vibrant and stable middle class."

In addition to articulating a compelling, inclusive vision, the Republican Party has to come to grips with the reality that appearances matter. Reach out to women, Latinos and Asians and include them so that others can easily see that Republicans do more than talk about opportunity for all; they practice it.