What Election Officials Have to Teach Us All About Grace Under Fire

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Lesley Sillaman, Executive Vice President, Pittsburgh, Red Havas

As I write this, from the Pennsylvania hot spot of Allegheny County, I’m glued—for the third day in a row—to my TV/phone/computer. Like so many other Americans, I’ve centered my day around technology and half-work while the country waits for the 2020 Presidential Election results.

Earlier this year, I co-authored a piece for my agency, Red Havas, on leading during a crisis—something that does not come naturally to many people, as it turns out. The paper focused primarily on the COVID-19 crisis and outlined seven principles of leadership and communication as best practices among the political leaders and CEOs who were being asked to serve and lead during this unprecedented time. 

One of the principles outlined “the six C’s” of communication: calm, candid, confident, credible, compassionate and consistent. It featured examples from leading officials like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and many CEOs who exemplified so many of these traits throughout the pandemic.

Today, I’m struck by the similarities I’m seeing as I watch the way state, county and local officials in the battleground states still tallying votes are communicating to the world about the extraordinary events of this week. 

Yes, they have been preparing for months for this. But in truth—and I say this as a crisis expert—it’s almost impossible to prepare fully for the real-life moment of being thrust onto the main stage of the world, with a throng of national media reporting on your every word, being asked to outline the facts and details that could very well determine the course of history for the country, the world and your own career.

Unlike Cuomo and many global CEOs, these officials likely have not had the depth of training and experience to position them for this moment. Though they are elected officials, they are first and foremost, public servants who have an enormous responsibility. 

Among many outstanding examples, I’ve watched Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, Clark County Registrar Joe Gloria and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. They are undoubtedly exhausted—and they are citizens of this country with their own families and feelings as well. But they are performing remarkably and demonstrating leadership principles with ease. Despite being peppered repetitively with multiple questions about their process and results, they have continued, without fail, to communicate factually about the process they are overseeing. 

To add difficulty, in some cases, the Trump campaign has publicly criticized their work. In others, there have been public demonstrations and nonstop protests happening outside the buildings where they’re working. Nevertheless, they are persevering and continuing to show unflappable character. They are consistent, candid and credible about the integrity of the process and of the reputation of the poll workers they are overseeing. They are projecting confidence and calm to their teams and reminding us with compassion that democracy is the end goal, and that quick does not come at the cost of accurate.


About the Author: Lesley is an executive vice president with Red Havas, and a key leader of the company’s Global Collective, coordinating the agency’s cross-border work with Havas teams around the world. Sillaman joined Havas PR in 2006, and since then has been immersed as strategist, content and speech writer, media relations specialist and trainer. Lesley has been recognized in the industry for her expertise in crisis and corporate communication and regularly trains clients and teams on crisis communication. She has been recognized in the industry with several awards and accolades, including the 2016  PR News PR People Awards as Agency PR Professional of the Year and in 2018, as a member of the Cannes Lions Grand Jury in the PR category and as Jury President for the 2020 Lisbon PR Awards. 

2 Comments

  1. Robin Cohn on at 11:42 AM

    Lesley, spot on. Great example.

  2. Vanessa johns on at 6:18 PM

    Brillant!

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