Leaders or Hucksters?

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on March 21st, 2020.

I woke up before 5am this morning, slightly later than my new normal of 4am, with words from “Ironic” by Alanis Morissette playing in my head. For a minute, disoriented, I wasn’t sure whether I was about to laugh or cry. And then I cried.

In January of 2008, I decided I would start blogging, and I hired a talented writer and friend, Deborah Siegel, to work with me. If you need a refresh as to what was happening in the United States at that time, the topics and people included President Bush, sub-prime mortgage crisis, Ben Bernanke Chair of the Federal Reserve, Hank Paulson Treasury Secretary (my former boss), and US Presidential candidates dropping out like flies. In fact, on the day Deborah and I worked together for the first time, we paused to listen to the news as Hank Paulson made a special announcement regarding the unprecedented (at the time) financial interventions of the US government to try and bail out the economy. I was so fired up and pissed off that I started to rant, but Deborah simply said, “Write about it.” And so we did. We submitted a piece titled “The Confidence Man” to the Huffington Post, and it was published on the front page.

Today’s announcement by U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is but the latest effort by the current administration to downplay the severity of the current economic crisis. In the grand old American tradition of hucksterism, Paulson’s prescription is a sorely misleading sell.

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It’s time to wake up and smell the economy. Sadly, there’s no short and easy fix to the longer-term problems created by excessive borrowing combined with rampant consumerism. Yet Paulson insists (White House Stimulus Fact Sheet, Jan. 18, 12:03pm, WSJ.com), “By passing an effective growth package quickly, we can provide a shot in the arm to keep our fundamentally strong economy healthy and help keep instability in the housing and financial markets from more adversely affecting the overall economy.” Believing the economy to be grounded on a “solid foundation,” Paulson is ignoring the walls falling down.”

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Fast forward 12 years. Today, and every day for the past week, we have had government leaders and financial gurus appear before us on the same news channels as in 2008. In fact, this very second, as I hit publish, we are awaiting an announcement on another historical financial and legislative intervention, including billions, if not trillions of dollars worth of interventions. Instead of President Bush, we have President Trump. Instead of Treasury Secretary Paulson, we have Treasury Secretary Mnuchin (another former Goldman boss, my direct one). However, unlike 2008, we also have an array of health experts to listen to, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. If you flip from channel to channel as I have done unhealthily for the past couple of weeks, all you will see are panels of “experts”. Some of these politicians and health experts are giving us facts and useful information on how to take action against the Coronavirus. And some are not.

Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think?

The financial crisis of 2008 is obviously different than the crisis we’re currently facing. This time around the trigger is a global pandemic. Should we have foreseen the possibility of this and had a better plan? Heck yes. Will people, many people, die because of the lack of foresight and planning? Sadly, the answer is already yes. As of this writing, there were 18,900 confirmed cased in the United States and 263 deaths. 26 people are dying every hour in Italy. And beyond the absolutely devastating loss of life, there is the short term and long term economic and social impact.

Once again I find myself screaming at the television, and so once again I am turning to writing. This time around, I chose the medium of poetry to express my frustrations.

I keep thinking. Asking. “Why this is all so surprising”? Do you? I am not in to blame and shame. but I am into – leadership, responsibility, accountability. It’s a big deal to have NOT been better prepared. In all the big and obvious ways. And in all the invisible and hidden ways. A very big deal. This is about some people in particular. Those with big titles, big salaries, big platforms, big influence, big teams. But most of us. As well. It’s a big deal to witness and unpack and understand what all of this exposes. It will also be a big deal to respond. rethink, regroup, rebuild, reconnect. NOW. And especially. When the droplets settle and disappear.

Earlier today I looked up the term hucksterism, as I am not sure I have seen or used this word since 2008. Let me define it for you:

Hucksterism: To promote or attempt to sell (a commercial product, for example) in an overaggressive or showy manner.

Now, how about another word?

Leadership: A simple definition is that leadership is the art of motivating a group of people to act toward achieving a common goal. They are the person in the group that possesses the combination of personality and leadership skills to make others want to follow their direction.

We have, and always will, live in times of hucksters and leaders, and it has and will always be up to us to figure out who falls into which bucket. What I can do, what we all can do, is pay attention. Make note. Remember. Act. And throughout all of this, my favorite definition of insanity keeps coming to mind: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome.

So President Trump. Everything is not perfect and great and awesome and amazing. Nor is it all your fault. But you are the President of the United States at this moment, and your job is to be a leader, not a huckster. The same is true for every other leader right now, and especially those with the big titles, the big teams, and the big pay-checks. The walls are indeed, falling down. This pandemic is quickly exposing the cracks, if not downright fractures, in our institutions, our systems, and our social norms. This includes those in government at all levels everywhere, businesses both big and small, philanthropy, and civil society. There is so much to be learned in terms of how we live and work, practice proper preparedness, and care for our most vulnerable populations, both in “normal” times and in times of crisis and need.

We should never forget that countless people suffer and die every single day for so many preventable reasons. We have normalized the abnormal because it has been going on for so long. We have become so used to the word ‘crisis’ being in the news that the meaning has become lost. We move on and move past the headlines around deaths due to violence, poverty, addiction, preventable diseases, and mental-health, and we do this for so many reasons, perhaps the most common of which being it is someone else’s problem to solve. It may be someone else’s problem, but it is our problem too. Problems are everywhere, but so are solutions. We can all do something, or we can all do nothing. Isn’t it ironic that the number one message of this particular crisis is that we can in fact ALL do something that matters.

We can stay home. We can wash our hands. We can social distance. We can take care of one another. We can donate to charities serving the needy. We can search #covidkindness on twitter to lift our spirits. People really can be awesome!

In closing, I am quite sure I will continue to wake up before dawn for the foreseeable future. I am quite sure I will continue to yell at the television. And of course, I am going to keep sharing, posting, writing, and connecting; doing as I have done, out loud, for the past 12 years.

A few lines from the end of this poem I wrote and shared on March 14th called Maybe/Who/Next.

Let us all do the next right thing. Let us all do the next kind thing. Let us all do the next hopeful thing. Let us all do the next generous thing. The next compassionate thing. The next wise thing. The next rational thing. The next loving thing. The next safe thing. The next calm thing. And then. Do it again and again. We are all connected. We always have been. We always will be. (May heeding the call to ‘social distance’ be the force that actually draws us closer together)

I have written 778 blog posts since 2008. If you want to check them out you can find them here. And of course you can sign-up to have them emailed directly to your inbox. 


*A friend shared with me this white paper called “Public-Private Cooperation for Pandemic Preparedness and Response: A Call to Action”, which was prepared in partnership with the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the World Economic Forum, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation last year. Again, for a second, I did not know whether to laugh or cry. And then I cried.

The Glass Ceiling Has Been Shattered

Jacki HillaryAs published on LinkedIn Influencers on July 29th, 2016.

“I am not a Republican or a Democrat. I am a Canadian.” Those two simple statements have saved me from a lot of arguments over the past few months. Who are you voting for has become one of the first questions people seem to ask these days. It is not that I don’t have opinions, I have many, but I have chosen to be somewhat quiet on the topic. Why? Because I have been practicing my listening. Also, as a Canadian, I cannot vote in the US, and I fully respect that everyone has the right to vote for whichever candidate they choose.

To be clear, I have dreamt about the day that a woman would not only become a serious candidate for the Presidency of the United States, but would win. I have thought about this for decades, and in the year 2001, it became the core plot line for a Wonder Woman screenplay I was working on at the time. That is a long story that you can read about here. The reason that having a woman President was so important to my story was because I saw it as a game changer. If and when a woman, a great woman, a qualified woman, a remarkable woman, ascended to the most important and powerful role in the world, the journey towards a truly gender balanced world would take a GIANT leap forward. In my make believe world, my lead character Wonder Woman, would use her superpowers to help make it happen. Not by forcing voters to choose her candidate, but by using her lasso of truth to make sure each of the candidates were in fact telling the truth. There was a lot more to it, but wouldn’t that be a handy device to have right about now?

So tonight, with Hillary Clinton accepting the nomination for President at the Democratic National Convention, I honor the moment. How could I not? This is the first time a woman has received such a nomination from a major party.  Whether you support Hillary or not, it is a game-changing moment.

Below are some highlights that I pulled from tonight’s program.

Chelsea Clinton

Firstly, I think she is awesome! As a mother of a 16 year old daughter who I think is one of the most amazing people on the planet, I know what an incredible bond it can be, should be, between a mother and her girl child. If you can be judged by the character and accomplishments of your children, then Hillary rocked it. May I be so blessed. Of course, you can say that Chelsea has been given every privilege and that is true, but I have seen lots of kids grow up with similar levels of privilege and turn out to be, well, not so nice and very self-interested. That is not Chelsea. She came across so natural, so poised, so honest, so likable. Amazing job.

The video by Shonda Rhimes with Morgan Freeman. 

I get that the whole point of that video was for us to leave feeling that Hillary Clinton is a complete gift to us all. So good job. That was what I was left feeling. But what was also clear from the video, and from other speeches, is that she has a life-long commitment to children, to families, and to public service.  Making the statement, “Women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights” was a game-changing moment, and one of the most important speeches of all time. She said that over 20 years ago at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. I am glad they featured it.

Also, when they hugged on stage I truly lost it. What a moment. A moment for mothers and daughters everywhere.

Hillary Clinton – Some of my favorite lines from her speech.

We will not build a wall, we will build an economy where everyone who wants a job can get one.

As Secretary of State I went to 112 countries.

Don’t believe anyone who says I alone can fix it.

America needs everyone of us to lend our energy, our talents, our ambition to make our nation stronger. Stronger Together. It is not just a slogan, it is a guiding principle. The economy needs to work for everyone.

My job titles tell you what I have done, not why. In all these years of public service the service part has come easier to me than the public part.

Caring is not enough. To drive real progress you have to change both hearts and laws. You need understanding and action.

When there are no ceilings, the sky is the limit.

I believe America thrives when the middle class thrives. Our Democracy is not working the way it should.

In America, if you dream it, you should be able to build it.

If fighting for equal pay and affordable child care is playing the woman card, then deal me in.

America is great because America is good.

Let’s be stronger together my fellow Americans.

Last thoughts

I am ending with one of my favorite quotes included in my Wonder Woman report.

“If ever the world sees a time when women will come together purely for the good of humanity, it will be a power as the world has never seen.” – Matthew Arnold, circa 1800

The photo was from 2013 when I received the Global Fund for Women’s Global Philanthropy Award. It was presented to me by Hillary Clinton. I was truly touched by how gracious she was, and how personal she made the award. Also in the photo is Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro, President of The Global Fund For Women. Love her!

What I Would Tell The Next President

president picOriginally published on LinkedIn Influencers on April 23rd, 2016

On January 29th, 2009, a mere nine days after being sworn in as the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. It was his first piece of legislation as President, and it set the stage for a presidency that has been visibly committed to equal rights for men and women. Since that historic day over seven years ago, Obama has reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act, signed into law the Affordable Care Act, created the Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault and the White House Council on Women and Girls, issued an executive order that mandated federal contractors to publish pay data according to gender and race in order to combat the wage gap, and this May, the White House will host The United State of Women, a three day summit in Washington DC that will tackle gender inequality across a range of issues, including education, health, leadership, and economic empowerment. Throughout his presidency, Obama has never been shy in declaring his commitment to gender equality, often referencing his two young daughters as his inspiration, but with his presidency soon coming to an end, it’s time to look to the future. Come November 8th, the United States will have a new President, and regardless of who that President is, I have one question I want to ask them: What are YOU going to do to improve gender equality in this country?

Yes, this is another post about gender equality, and believe me, I wish it wasn’t. I wish I could ask the future President a different question. I would love to sit down and talk to the future President about foreign policy or how to grow the economy. That being said, gender analysis is an important consideration for both of these issues, as it is for pretty much every issue, and it is my belief that if the United States was a country that took the lead on women’s equality, we would take the lead on a lot of other issues as well. Sadly, we are far from being the leader in this arena.

In the 2015 Global Gender Gap Report, an annual paper published by the World Economic Forum that tracks 145 economies according to how well they are utilizing their female citizens, the United States ranked 28th in the world, directly below Mozambique. Additionally, with issues such as campus sexual assault, rape culture,  gender pay gaps, sexual harassment, lack of quality childcare, inequitable access to capital, lack of women in leadership positions and TRAP laws dominating the headlines, it is clear that this country has a long way to go if we want to improve that ranking.

But just for a moment, imagine what would happen if we had a President who was dedicated to bringing greater gender balance and gender intelligence to their leadership and political agenda. Imagine what we could achieve as a country if every citizen, regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation, had a more equal opportunity to thrive and contribute. Imagine if the decision makers in all walks of life had diverse and varied life experiences to draw upon when making these important decisions. It’s an amazing vision for the future, and it’s what keeps me going in my work when all I want to do is bang my head against a wall. I recently attended the Skoll World Forum, a gathering of over a thousand of the world’s leaders and doers in the field of social entrepreneurship, and the issue of the lack of moral, authentic, and compassionate leaders came up more than once. Where are the world leaders that we truly respect, who are doing the “right” things, and who inspire us to be all we can be and do all we can do to make the world a more just and equitable place? Seriously, try to name some!

Thankfully, there are a few who while perhaps far from perfect, at least give us some hope. Last October, I was proud to watch as my fellow Canadians elected Justin Trudeau as the 23rd Prime Minister of Canada. Almost immediately, Mr. Trudeau made it clear that gender equality was going to be a core component of his platform when he unveiled the 29th Canadian Ministry; the first gender balanced ministry in Canadian history. When a reporter asked he why he felt gender equality was important, he simply replied, “Because it’s 2015.” Frankly, that’s all he really should have to say on the matter.

But it isn’t just Mr. Trudeau and Canada where gender equality is being addressed by world leaders. From Finland and Sweden, to Indonesia and Rwanda, world leaders across the globe are realizing that the key to economic development and social prosperity is gender parity, and it’s not just because it’s the morally right path. Research across all sectors have shown that when women and girls are empowered, everyone, every man, woman, and child, reaps the benefits. Together with Women Moving Millions, I recently put together a list of the top 200 reports that supports this argument, but the effort continues. I am currently curating a list of the top 300 reports that should prove once and for all that supporting and empowering women and girls is indeed a powerful strategy if you want peace and prosperity. If you cannot wait for me to share the final list, you can download the current version that at present includes 269 reports here. If you do take that step and you find that I am missing your favorite report, add the link in the comment section and I will include it.

With so much research, evidence, and common sense behind the idea that making women’s rights and inclusion a priority is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do, why has no country ever achieved it? Well, the reality is that this sort of change is not going to happen overnight. As Elizabeth Banks put it so astutely at our Women at Sundance gathering earlier this year, “We are up against something, which is the entirety of human history”, but that doesn’t mean we stop pushing forward. If you were to be elected as the President of the most powerful country in the world, isn’t that be something you would want to be remembered for? Changing the course of human history for the better? My guess is that the answer would be yes.