(DISCLAIMER: This isn’t really about Joe Biden. At all.)
My wife and I were on a Caribbean cruise last week. It’s one of the few times a year I totally unplug from news and social media. But one thing did cut through the noise: news and analysis of President Biden’s recent speech in Georgia about election reform.
In response to the speech, one talk show host called Biden, among other things, a “propagandist.” He wasn’t merely describing the President’s mode of communication. He was using the term as a slur.
That got me thinking that maybe you and I should have a conversation about propaganda and propagandists. Spoiler alert: I’m going to recommend that if you want to be a Thought Leader, you should be a propagandist.
I can’t start this conversation the way I did without pointing out that accusations of propaganda are regularly used by politicians on both sides of the aisle. President Biden himself has been on both the giving and receiving ends of this sort of accusation multiple times. On at least two occasions in the last few years, he has compared other politicians to Adolf Hitler’s minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. So let’s not act as if anyone in that fight is innocent.
Propaganda has been around since the ancient Greeks, but the first usage of the term “propaganda” goes back to 1622 by the Catholic Church. Pope Gregory XV created a commission of Cardinals to “propagate” the faith. Five years later, Pope Urban VIII created a “College of Propaganda” to train priests as missionaries.
We see evidence of propaganda being deployed within all sorts of societies over the following centuries. Anytime a group feels there is a common interest in some issue, propaganda is put into play. It had, at best, an honorable and respectful reputation. At worst, it was considered benign. But around the time of World War I, that began to change.
The twentieth century saw the tides turn as fascist and communist forces harnessed the power of propaganda to extend their powers beyond their national borders. Propaganda quickly became associated with selfish, dishonest, and subversive manipulation.
And that’s too bad. The “father of modern propaganda,” Edward Bernays, wrote an apologetic of the craft in 1928 which explained how propaganda could be used for the forces of good. On that front, the book was a failure. In fact, some of Bernays’ other writings on manipulating public opinion were found in the possessions of Joseph Goebbels after the Nazis were defeated.
Side note: Bernays was understandably unhappy about his teachings being associated with Third Reich, so he dropped the “propaganda” label re-branded his work as “public relations.”
And with that, I’ll end the history lesson. Now let’s move on to the good stuff.
The best working definition of propaganda that I’ve found is “the systematic dissemination of information in order to promote a point of view.”
That doesn’t seem so bad, does it? We all have a point of view. Or at least we should, right? If you’re a Thought Leader, you’d better.
Frankly, much of human communication could be classified as manipulative because each of us is constantly trying to control the world around us.
Just a couple of days before we left on our cruise, I was interviewed for a podcast about achieving mastery. The host pulled some verbiage from my website about influencing and manipulating an audience. He was polite, but he clearly wanted to call me out for promoting such a devious-sounding strategy.
I admitted that, yes, at first my strategies can seem a little shady. But then I asked him if he had ever been out on a first date.
He smiled and answered, “a time or two.”
“Did you pay a little more attention to hygiene before that date?” I asked. “Maybe you showered, brushed your teeth, and made sure you smelled good?”
“Yes, of course,” he replied.
“Did you make an effort to pick out clothes that were attractive and made you look good?”
I asked him, “why did you do that?”
“Well, to make a good impression.”
“That’s right,” I said. “You wanted to impress your date. You were trying to control their assessment of you. You know another world for that? Manipulation.”
The host laughed and said, yeah, that’s where he thought I was going with that. And then he admitted he was already on board with my line of thinking because he had recognized years ago that most human interactions have some kind of motive or agenda.
You see, we all want something from the people around us — even if it’s nothing more than just a little bit of respect and courtesy as we go through our day.
So what would a you, as a Thought Leader, want from your audience?
Primarily, you want them to follow you. To accept your opinions, take your advice, and — to put it bluntly — to do and buy what they’re told.
That’s why Thought Leadership is 70% persuasion.
Know what Thought Leadership isn’t?
Teaching. Teachers rarely become Thought Leaders. The job of a teacher is to teach a student the way things are, but the job of a Thought Leader is to show students how things could and should be, and then help the student get there. That’s a different skill set.
(Additionally, I would argue that it’s also the job of a Thought Leader to produce profit, but that’s another conversation for another day.)
The skill set needed to become a successful Thought Leader relies heavily on the candidate’s powers of persuasion. And despite the bad reputation propaganda has rightfully gained for itself, it is still a powerful tool; one that you cannot afford to ignore.
Therefore, your Thought Leadership content needs to have some propagandistic elements in order to do its job.
So what does that look like? Here are three propagandistic traits your Thought Leadership content must include.
Propaganda is written to promote a specific viewpoint. There is no attempt to be fair or balanced. You should not just write to inform, but to persuade your audience. Thought Leadership happens when your narrative intersects with your follower’s narrative. Therefore, it’s far more important to get your follower to adopt your school of thought than to merely be informed by you.
Propaganda connects emotionally. Don’t mistake a piece of content that is free of emotions for “professionalism.” If you want to influence people, you have to make them feel something in order to be open to suggestion. I’m not really a touchy-feely person, but Teddy Roosevelt’s saying that “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” has a foundation in neuroscience and cognitive psychology. You’ll never build Thought Leadership if you ignore how the brain actually works. It not only won’t happen — it can’t happen.
Finally, propaganda divides the world into “good” (your side) and “evil,” which is the label attached to the behaviors and opinions you are against. You can’t name a hero who didn’t fight against a villain. There’s a reason for that: people want to take sides, now more than ever. By drawing clear boundaries in your market between what you consider good and evil, you can demonstrate values that people may choose to adopt. If you can use these values to gain philosophical agreement, you’ve created a much more durable and profitable relationship with your follower than someone who simply
We are still in the early days of the new year, and it’s a great time to begin taking advantage of the opportunities in the next twelve months.
I’d like to invite you to join me for a “State of the Union” address about what it takes to be a recognized, respected, and highly rewarded expert in 2022. This is intended for authors, online course creators, podcasters, and others seeking Thought Leadership status.
I’ll give you my predictions for the year ahead, the opportunities I see on the horizon, and warnings about present and imminent threats to your efforts. And share a few great tools & resources to make your life easier.
You can register for this free webcast at https://EducatedAuthority.com/SOTU