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Why the bully pulpit is important - and it's not what you think

Lately, our political leaders are talking past each other - straight into the ravenous, relentless, non-forgiving cable news cycle. Their soundbites are increasingly lost on the people they're intended for. It's actually quite painful to watch, especially when you compare it to some of the best communicators of times past. 

Bully!"

The term "bully pulpit" is widely misunderstood because of the commonly used definition of bully in modern America. The "bully" in bully pulpit does not mean imposing or forcing your opinion on someone. "Bully" in this sense means "jolly good" or beneficial. President Theodore Roosevelt first coined the term when describing one the advantages of the presidency - lots of people are inclined to pay attention to your speeches, so you'd better take advantage of the opportunity and make them worth listening to. His philosophy was to remove the fluff and grandstanding - and take the opportunity to inform, encourage and educate in a positive manner.

How are you using your bully pulpit? Everyone influences someone. Are you using that influence for "bully" things or bad things? Let's compare two modern speakers who are using their bully pulpit in contrasting ways.

Bill Gates has transformed himself from technology innovator to world health expert over the past ten years. He's climbed to the top of the technology world, but instead of staying around and being a critic or commentator on that subject, he's using his bully pulpit to change the world. Using his money and his influence through the Gates Foundation, he's decided to tackle some of the world's largest public health problems, such as eradicating malaria. Every speech he gives seems to make the headlines. Gates has mastered the use of the bully pulpit.

Rush Limbaugh is an influential man in some circles. But when compared to Gates, his public remarks and radio show have taken a remarkably different turn. Instead of using his bully pulpit to elevate the dialog, he's made the decision to be incendiary, derogatory, and just plain mean. I'd even argue that his pulpit has not been "bully" in the sense that Teddy Roosevelt meant - but bully in the worst sense of the word.

You don't have to be famous to have a bully pulpit. Here are five things you can do to use your bully pulpit in a positive way:

  1. Write a blog post or Facebook message about your favorite charity and why you choose to donate
  2. Send an email to twenty friends and challenge them to take an action that will benefit the community
  3. Turn your dinnertime conversation into an educational time for your children. Share your values with them and encourage them to take positive actions.
  4. Contact your political leaders and tell them what's on your mind. You'd be surprised how few people actually do this.
  5. When you're giving a presentation or speech, can the fluff and talk about something beyond yourself or your organization. Get people thinking about their influence and the positive things happening all around them.

Who are your favorite "bully" speakers or leaders? Please feel free to leave a comment here or connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Claire Celsi is a public relations professional in West Des Moines, Iowa.

 

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Comments

Claire

Thanks for informing me about the word bully. Speaking about ones passion always connects better than blabbing on about boring business stuff.

I will have to reevaluate the Sam and the Pharaohs song "Wooly Bully"

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