Muammar Gadaffi’s Address to the U.N. a Lesson in Poor Communication

Does strategy have any value without execution? Does an idea, no matter how good it is, have any worth if it cannot be applied to the world in some way? Realistically, in any organization or collective, is it possible to execute a strategy or apply an idea without communication?  The answer is, quite simply, no.  And, since we know from Marshall McLuhan that “the medium is the message,” how an idea is communicated is more likely to determine how it is received and/or applied than the content and context of the idea itself.  Case-in-point?  Yesterday’s address by Muammar Gadaffi to the United Nations General Assembly.    

Muammar Gadaffi’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly was an exercise in “shock and awe” public speaking that left half the seats in the assembly vacant, and himself wide open to attacks from pretty much every western media outlet.  While such condemnation is not surprising, given the west’s traditional messaging around Libya, Mr. Gadaffi’s choices revolving around his speech did nothing to change their tune.  This is a shame, really, because despite his one and a half hour, sometimes rambling, often fiery rant, Mr. Gadaffi had some meaningful things to say, particular points of view to share, valid concerns to raise, and truly progressive ideas to propose.

I thought his sentiments concerning Barack Obama and his praise for America’s courage in electing this “son of Africa” were quite touching, if a bit overstated with the notion that Africa would accept Obama as President for the next hundred years.  In addition, Mr. Gadaffi raised some important concerns regarding the undemocratic nature of the UN Security Council, and made what I thought were some thoughtful proposals to make that crucial and powerful governing council more inclusive, representative of the General Assembly, and democratic.  Some might call this hypocrisy coming from a “notorious dictator,” but the idea has merit nonetheless.  Calling it “the terror council” was probably not a good idea, though.  The last point I will mention is Mr. Gadaffi’s suggestion that the U.N. might relocate to another part of the world.  Putting it in the context of jet-lagged diplomats may not have been putting his strongest rhetorical foot forward, but the notion of locating the U.N. more centrally, closer to more nations (and populations) does make sense, as does his suggestion that perhaps the U.N. assembly could rotate between up to three locations.  

All these and other concerns, arguments, and proposals put forth by Mr. Gadaffi were dismissed outright by the media here in the west.  Why?  Simply because they could not see past how poorly Mr. Gadaffi made his case.  It is a lesson for us all.  Whether you are an entrepreneur pitching your business plan to an investor or making your sales pitch, how you make that pitch is as important as the value of your business, product, or service.  It’s a lesson for individuals and leaders in organizations large and small: business, government, academic, and not-for-profit.  Who knows how many good ideas have fallen into the void for no other reason than the delivery or presentation of the idea rubbed the recipients the wrong way?  Now consider all those protestors and protest movements out there.  The next time you want to have your voice heard, your concerns raised, your point of view considered, and your deeply-rooted convictions taken seriously into account by those in positions of power and authority, think of Mr. Gadaffi.  

After 40 years, Mr. Gadaffi was finally given a chance to have his voice heard.  He raised his concerns in a raised voice filled with passion; he pounded the podium to share his point of view backed by deeply-rooted convictions.  In the end, his speech, like so many passionate protests, proposals, proclamations, and appeals led to no positive progress.


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