Unifying Leadership: Building on Common Ground with Katie Harbath and Michael Slaby

Published
Aug 2, 2021

On this week’s episode of World Reimagined, we explore the responsibility and role of leaders in polarizing times. Listen wherever you get your podcasts.

We don’t often think about common ground as a forum for disagreement. But the most productive discourse often requires first identifying a shared set of goals, facts, or ideas. How can today’s leaders help build an environment of mutual understanding, respect and productive disagreement in an increasingly divisive world? What role does technology and the internet play in helping people find and create common ground? 

In this episode, Host Gautam Mukunda speaks with two digital strategists about the role of commonality in productive dialogue and debate and the impacts that technology has had on building common ground. Katie Harbath was Facebook's Public Policy Director before founding Anchor Change, a consulting firm dedicated to upholding democracy and stopping the spread of misinformation around elections. Michael Slaby, author of For ALL the People and Chief Strategist at Harmony Labs, was the Deputy Digital Director and Chief Technology Officer during Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.

I feel we do have that commonality of wanting to make sure that the internet is a space that can help to raise voices that wouldn't otherwise get to be heard, that can increase access to the democratic process, and can get more people involved.
Katie Harbath
The nature of how a company believes what its responsibility and relationship is to community, what their responsibilities are for leadership -- that's not just a soft positioning, values-based conversation -- that needs to be a more fulsome understanding and a more multi-dimensional, quantifiable understanding of what a successful company means.
Michael Slaby

Follow @GMukunda on Twitter or email us at WorldReimagined@nasdaq.com

Books Referenced on World Reimagined Season 2 Episode 8:

For ALL the People: Redeeming the Broken Promises of Modern Media and Reclaiming Our Civic Life by Michael Slaby

Guest Information for Unifying Leadership:

Katie Harbath is a global leader at the intersection of elections, democracy, and technology. As the chief executive of Anchor Change, she helps clients think through their civic engagement online. She is also a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council and a fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Previously, Katie spent 10 years at Facebook. As a director of public policy, she built and led global teams that managed elections and helped government and political figures use the social network to connect with their constituents.

Before Facebook, Katie held senior digital roles at the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and the DCI Group, as well as multiple campaigns for office.

She is a board member at the National Conference on Citizenship, Democracy Works, and the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Madison-Wisconsin.

Michael Slaby is a world leader in digital strategy and technology and how they drive organizations and companies. Michael Slaby is chief strategist at Harmony Labs working on accelerating media reform and transformation. Previously, he founded and was head of mission of Timshel—a social impact technology company. He was a fellow at the Shorenstein Center at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Michael helped lead the Obama for America campaign as chief integration and innovation officer in 2012 where he oversaw all technology and analytics, and as deputy digital director and chief technology officer in 2008.

Michael is the author of For ALL the People -- his first book on the relationship between media, technology, and our civic life. He has served as an advisor and board member to initiatives including the United Nations, the U.S. State Department, I AM ALS, Rhize, Bright Pink, I Am That Girl, and LiveStrong and was named to Crain’s Chicago 40 Under 40 and Tech 50. He is a graduate of Brown University and currently lives in Rhinebeck, New York, with his much more awesome wife, Lydia Hill Slaby.

Episode Transcript:

Gautam Mukunda:

It seems like the two sides of our political spectrum can't agree on anything, even basic facts. How do you look at that and hold a conversation, let alone lead a team?

Speaker 2:

I think of it as trying to create a new world, the kind of world that we perhaps have always wanted to live in.

Speaker 3:

Climate change is a systemic risk to the entire economy. You cannot diversify away from it.

Speaker 4:

To intervene when your country, your company, your family need you to do so, that's leadership character.

Announcer:

World Reimagined with Gautam Mukunda, a leadership podcast for a changing world, an original podcast from Nasdaq.

Speaker 6:

Why do leaders fail? Unwillingness to learn, a fear of showing their vulnerability and a fear of being themselves, a lack of authenticity.

Speaker 7:

The character of a corporation is not the personality. Character of a corporation is the integrity and the morality of a company.

Speaker 8:

So without truth and trust, there is no democracy.

Protestors:

Yes, we can! Yes, we can!

Gautam Mukunda:

2008 seems like a lifetime ago. So much has happened since, that our memories of it seem almost sepia toned, like there from the distant past. But 2008 was the year that put us on the path to the social media dominated politics we have today.

Gautam Mukunda:

According to the Pew Research Center, that year was the first time that more than half of all American adults used the internet to connect with politics. And even though more Republicans reported being online than Democrats, Democrats on the internet were markedly more active politically, a fact that's often cited as a factor in the eventual victory of Barack Obama. And helping to lead the team behind that effort was Michael Slaby.

Michael Slaby:

You know, I don't know that when Facebook was in a dorm room that they had this vision of the role that Facebook would play in American and global public sphere and all of the responsibilities that would come with that. There is no way they could have envisioned all of that.

Gautam Mukunda:

Michael was the deputy digital director and chief technology officer during Barack Obama's 2008 run for president. He went on to oversee technology and analytics in President Obama's 2012 campaign before founding the social impact technology company Timshel. Today, he's the author of For All the People, which proposes a new and better relationship between media, politics and civic life.

Gautam Mukunda:

Michael's mention of Facebook wasn't coincidental, because we were joined in this conversation by Katie Harbath, who served as the social media giant's public policy director for 10 years. During that time, she led the team that managed the company's interaction with elections around the world. She has since gone on to found Anchor Change, a consulting firm dedicated to upholding democracy and stopping the spread of misinformation around elections. This gives her a surprising and global perspective on the dangers misinformation poses to democracy.

Gautam Mukunda:

Katie, I'll just start with you. You tweeted in April, that was a few months ago now, that, "The next four years are going to be crucial in defining the future of democracy and the internet." So how are we doing?

Katie Harbath:

Well, I'm quite obsessed with what is going to be coming in 2024. It's an electoral tsunami where you're going to have not only a US presidential election, but you're going to have elections in India, Indonesia, Taiwan, Mexico, the UK, European Parliament, Ukraine, many others, but it's the first time in the world that you're going to have all those countries going to election in the same year.

Katie Harbath:

And I think that over the next few years, it's going to be very crucial to understand around if we can really pull together the right regulatory solutions, the right changes and adaptations that the tech companies need to do, changes in the media and how the media covers and how they intersect with technology.

Katie Harbath:

I just think that this is the point in time where if we don't act now, the dye is going to be cast after 2024. And we may not be able to come back from wherever we emerge after those elections. It's still early. I think we still have time, but I don't think that we are anywhere near finding any of the solutions that we need to.

Gautam Mukunda:

So Katie, you said, "The die has been cast." So let me [inaudible 00:04:28]. What's the scenario you're afraid of?

Katie Harbath:

I mean, my fear is that we're going to come out of 2024 and that every country around the world, not... and in addition to every state in the United States are all going to have different laws around the internet. That's going to make it near impossible for anybody to come, any new platform or technology, to emerge that can be meaningful. And that rather than working together as an entire globe about how we want the internet to work and freedom of expression and those issues, we instead all go within our borders and we're no longer talking to one another and instead are very insular.

Michael Slaby:

I think the balkanization of the internet question is something that has come up off and on for years. I don't actually know who used that phrase first. It might've been Jonathan Zittrain in End of the Internet, which he wrote in 2008.

Michael Slaby:

I think your point about all the different actors, all of whom need to reimagine their and our behavior, is really important. And the global scale of 2024 is pretty intimidating.

Michael Slaby:

I also think there are consequences for how well democracy functions as a system of government in modern society online. I think not only is there a intense question about, are we going to be able to have a global system of information that we all share and rely on and use to make the world smaller, I think there is also a question about how we trust leadership and systems of government and the transfer of power and the effective, fair, safe election processes.

Michael Slaby:

And I think so many elections all on top of each other, on top of the media landscape question that Katie just laid out, it feels a little precarious. It is a moment that feels a little fragile.

Michael Slaby:

I will say, it also is a moment that feels [ripe 00:06:26] for opportunity. That there is a conversation happening now of higher quality and a broader connection to culture about how we consume information, what we consume, the nature of journalism.

Michael Slaby:

I think we're having that conversation at a much higher level of sophistication and we have connected it to both the systems and the policies that are needed to optimize the systems we rely on for community and healthy society and not just on the individual experience. And I think that question gives me a lot of hope about our capacity to answer these questions for the better over the next couple of years, and respond to the moment in a way that is positive and not just a little scary.

Katie Harbath:

I agree. I mean, I think I'm really glad that we're having these conversations. I'd be scared if we weren't. And I think these are really, really hard questions. And so I'm actually okay with there being a lot of disagreement right now, because we need to be having these conversations out in the open and understanding all the different perspectives to even have an opportunity to try to figure out a path forward.

Michael Slaby:

Our capacity to disagree productively is something that has not worked that well over the last several years, certainly not in American cultural political discourse, and that we've developed this borderline personality disorder as a society that we either all agree or all disagree and there is not a lot of nuance. And the systems that we rely on for information are pretty allergic to nuance to begin with. And so our capacity to disagree about these things is actually really important.

Michael Slaby:

These systems are very complicated and our reliance on them, reliance on private systems, private companies, even if they're publicly held, for our public sphere creates responsibilities for them that they may not have envisioned. And they need guidance and leadership from public officials on how we want these systems to work, or we're not going to get what we need from them.

Gautam Mukunda:

This is one of the biggest questions facing both one of the largest and most powerful sectors of our economy and our government. What is the role of technology companies in shaping our elections?

Gautam Mukunda:

Social media wasn't created to determine the fate of democracy around the world, but now the leaders of social media companies play a larger role in elections than most political candidates do. So what's the answer and how can governments help?

Katie Harbath:

If you go the tech companies, there's added layers of responsibility there because of what is happening on their platforms. And I'm talking about everything from your Microsoft and even smaller startups. You've got your Gabs, your Parlers, now Gettr as well, but you also have your Nextdoors, your Reddits, folks like that, that are all trying to think through, how do we handle, how do we think about mis and disinformation and freedom of expression? And the de-platforming of Donald Trump has been a big part of that.

Katie Harbath:

I just talked about the 2024 elections. Next year, you're going to have major elections in France, the Philippines. Canada might be having a snap election at any point in time, as well you've got Kenya and Nigeria. My team, we used to start thinking about these elections a year and a half, two years in advance because it takes time to make sure you have the right hires around language, the right understanding of context, the right policies in place, the right products in place, all of that.

Katie Harbath:

And so we don't even know, is Twitter or YouTube going to take some of these labeling things that they did for the United States, the voter information centers, all of that stuff, are they going to expand that out globally? Are they going to expand a lot of these policies that were US only? Are they going to make them apply to the rest of the world or not? And those are some of the questions that I think they need to deal with sooner rather than later.

Katie Harbath:

And if you want to, now is the time to be... I hate to use the word testing when it comes to elections, but in the tech world, trying to continue to see what works and what doesn't work to try to be prepared for all of those that are going to be happening.

Michael Slaby:

Well, and not only coming up with answers, but also this is the intersection between corporate behavior around all the principles you just laid out and the regulatory question where we started, at least in America, which is these companies need help defining the nature of the values and principles that they are expected to be held to when it comes to public goods and a public sphere.

Michael Slaby:

I think from a, at least relative to civic and political speech, having a better clarity, better regulatory environment, a set of principles that all of these companies we're responding to would be in everyone's interest. I think every platform trying to have these incredibly complex conversations on their own and in the context of their own incentives and their own businesses is really problematic.

Gautam Mukunda:

What happens online doesn't stay online. The same Pew research study that covered the 2008 election also found that as people move their political lives online, the sources behind their information became increasingly partisan.

Gautam Mukunda:

During the previous election cycle, only a quarter of those polls said, the sites they turn to for politics shared their point of view. A third said, they got their information from a neutral source. Four years later, those numbers had swapped.

Gautam Mukunda:

Now, it's difficult to even imagine a world in which the vast majority of voters don't get their news with at least a tiny side of spin. And that's creating problems with what gets said online and off.

Katie Harbath:

I have to tell you, there is a large number, I will say, of both Republicans and Democrats, and it usually depends on the situation or scenario I'm in. Usually it's if I'm in Silicon valley, it's Republicans who don't want to necessarily be public that they're Republican.

Katie Harbath:

Democrats in DC, they will tell me, if we're having drinks at a bar, I'll be like, "Can you explain this to me?" And they're like, "Oh yeah, I know that's crazy. I don't know what our side is thinking, but I can't say that out on Twitter or say that too loudly because I'll just get shouted down and my job could be threatened. My reputation could be threatened, et cetera."

Katie Harbath:

And then the Republicans out in Silicon Valley, they don't want the same thing to happen to them. Or there is Democrats who are like, "I just want a different perspective," but it all happens in hushed tones behind closed doors because-

Michael Slaby:

Yeah. It is so true.

Katie Harbath:

Most people want to be able to have those conversations. Wherever you might worry about getting attacked or having a large number of people come at you, and most people don't necessarily want that attention or want to have to defend that, their default is to stay silent rather than to speak up.

Michael Slaby:

Well, and I think this reflects a weakness of both parties, actually, that as parties have gotten more homogenous about their thinking, less values driven, there is less room for debate and the quality of ideas goes down. And our ability to debate internally, inside the family on the left and the right, decreases and we don't get new ideas. New ideas don't get surfaced. And it makes it really difficult to question orthodoxies at a policy level because we've defined the party by policy planks rather than by values and principles.

Michael Slaby:

And I think in a healthier two party system, I think 2016 would have been a really different election. And I don't know that it would have been as easy for President Trump to translate his cultural power into institutional power. And I don't think it would have been as easy for Secretary Clinton's campaign to assume their cultural power when they had institutional power in a system that was healthier and when both parties were more principled.

Gautam Mukunda:

Katie and Michael aren't just saying, but nowadays it's hard to have political discussions with people we disagree with. They're saying, it's hard to have them with people we basically agree with, if there are even slight differences in our views.

Gautam Mukunda:

Almost everyone, no matter how passionately committed they are to free speech, would agree that there are some views that should render you a social pariah, even if the government should never engage in censorship. But almost no one agrees on where those lines should be drawn or how to deal with people right on their edges.

Gautam Mukunda:

Moving this new age of online discourse to a healthier place is going to be really hard. It's going to require leaders to rise to the challenge. I asked Katie and Michael what leaders outside of politics could do to get us there?

Gautam Mukunda:

Let me split this out. Instead of we focused a bit on the government, so let me go reverse and say, what would you like to see private companies do between now and then to get us to a better place than where you fear we're heading?

Katie Harbath:

I'd say there is a few things. That it depends on what type of company you are, because I think that there's a different role for all sorts of ones.

Gautam Mukunda:

Great.

Katie Harbath:

There's general, I think, corporate social responsibility. Again, you see here in the States, but I think you'll see around the world where more companies, right, are being asked to weigh in on social issues.

Katie Harbath:

And if you're not a CEO right now, again, I don't care where in the world, but if you're not thinking about how your company might get pulled into questions around legitimacy of elections or the civic process, you've got your head in a sand and you should really be thinking about those things now and doing, we call them red teaming exercises, where you think about how are the different ways that my company could get pulled into this, or could end up playing a role and how might we handle that?

Katie Harbath:

You're never going to think through the situation perfectly, but it's at least going to help you to think about it before you're in the middle of the crisis and having to do so.

Gautam Mukunda:

Right now, Toyota is getting a lot of flack because of its donation patterns, right, where it is the single largest donor to congressmen who voted to overturn the 2020 election. What would your advice be to the CEO of Toyota?

Katie Harbath:

Right now, I think that Toyota, and again, of many other companies that are getting pulled into this is, don't think about the short term right now. Sit down and think about this in both short, medium and long-term.

Katie Harbath:

Think about the fact that you could end up having, at least in the States, a Republican House and Senate come 2022. Think about how this could play out over the next few years and come up with a set of principles that you want your actions around, whether it is anything around politics, whether it is political giving, whether it is legislation, whether it's around you're going to give your employees election day off as a holiday.

Katie Harbath:

And think through what are your principles as a company around civic and politics, that you have something that can be your foundation for when these issues come up that you can try to stick to and explain to both your employees and to the public about why you are making the decisions that you are.

Katie Harbath:

I think it's pretty unfair to ask any company to say that you can only donate to people that are 100% in favor of everything that you or employees are because that just doesn't exist. Your employee base is diverse. Your customer base is diverse. And there is just the practicality of what it means to work with all these different governments and how your government relations teams need to do that. But by having those principles, I think it at least helps people to understand where you're coming from. And then it's important to try to stick to those as much as possible when you're actually making these decisions and these issues actually come up.

Michael Slaby:

I think one of the things that Katie is illuminating here that's really important is that for too long, I think companies have seen CSR through the lens of PR and risk mitigation rather than as an opportunity for community leadership and recognizing the role that they play as actors in a community that includes commercial outcomes, but also employment and also social and also supply chains and a bunch of other multidimensional effects that companies have on the communities in which they operate. And that they have a role as a leader that they can embrace or not.

Michael Slaby:

And I think the not embrace and just pretend like, what, we just sell widgets and we're just a commercial entity, that's all we are, is just an antiquated definition of the role of a corporation in society. And I think the better business leaders can get their heads around that and the reality that Katie is laying out, the more effective they're going to be as leaders, and they ultimately will be better companies. There is going to be companies that hold on to their employees better. They're going to have more loyal customers. They will be more profitable. And they will be better community members.

Michael Slaby:

I think we're past the point where we have social impact companies and not social impact companies. All companies are social impact companies. You're just either having positive effects or negative effects. And the more open we can be about all of those consequences, I think the easier it gets to create the set of principles that Katie is talking about.

Gautam Mukunda:

It's easy to look back at 2008 and think of it as a more civil time. It's easy to forget that this was a hotly contested election and that coming in the midst of the great recession with a country mired in two wars launched by a deeply unpopular president, a lot of our fellow citizens were beginning to stew. But you wouldn't know that from looking at our two guests, because while Michael was working with the Obama campaign at the Democratic National Convention, Katie was helping to run Republican campaigns, which culminated here at the RNC.

Speaker 12:

[crosstalk 00:20:24]. Senator McCain, Senator McCain.

Speaker 13:

Excuse me, sir.

Speaker 12:

Wait, wait, Senator McCain...

Speaker 13:

Sorry.

Speaker 12:

Senator McCain...

Gautam Mukunda:

13 years ago, they were on opposite sides. Given today's partisan bitterness, how do Michael and Katie do it?

Gautam Mukunda:

If I had told the two of you that 13 years later, you two would both be, if not working together on the same side on an issue about shaping the future of the internet and the future of the media for the health of democracy, what do you think you would say, and what were the events that brought you here?

Michael Slaby:

I think we have always had a similar perspective about the nature of what we need from systems and platforms and communication and storytelling and connectivity, and that these systems aren't neutral and that lack of neutrality means there is a value judgment that gets made and that those principles need to be publicly declared.

Michael Slaby:

I think at the systemic level, we both believe really deeply in people making good decisions about self-determination. And we live in a system of representative self-government and those systems need to work. And those systems need to be open and transparent and public. And I don't think any of that's new.

Katie Harbath:

I've said from my first role in doing digital politics was the '04 election. And ever since then, as the internet has become, and technology has become, more a part of our civic lives in particular elections, I've always enjoyed the fact that I got to know people on both the left and right. And we oftentimes came together because at first, we all just wanted to get elected representatives and candidates using the platforms and understanding the power that the internet would have as part of this.

Katie Harbath:

And I feel like we do have that commonality of wanting to make sure that the internet is a space that can help to raise voices that wouldn't otherwise get to be heard, that can increase access to the democratic process, can get more people involved.

Katie Harbath:

And like Michael said, we're definitely going to have differences in terms of some of the policies and exactly how to get there, but we've always had that common North Star, I would say, at least how I felt it, a common North Star to bring us all together on this. And it's part of what I've really enjoyed staying in this space over the years, because you can have these very respectful and robust debates about what we should do, but at the end of the day, we do want the same end goal and the same thing to happen, if that makes sense.

Gautam Mukunda:

It does make sense. And so in this time where it seems like the parties can't work together on anything, I find it pretty hopeful that you two arrive in the same space.

Gautam Mukunda:

So we don't seem able to get members of Congress who agree that storming the Capitol is a bad thing. If we've reached that level of partisan rancor, is it possible to bridge these kinds of divides? How would you learn from your experience to generalize to that?

Michael Slaby:

Katie and I have known each other for a long time and have had a lot of conversations in a lot of different topics over a lot of years. We're not having a really exhaustive bipartisan conversation over Twitter. We also tweet, and sometimes we re-tweet each other, and sometimes we disagree with each other in that space. We have a much more robust relationship that enables us to have a more nuanced conversation about what we believe, and it makes room for difference. We agree on some things and we disagree on some things and we can go home and still be friends, even when we disagree.

Michael Slaby:

And I think the question around the performativeness of politics is actually a really important one, because I do think that the way that we campaign and the norms that have been created both by campaigners, so people like me, and encouraged by the platforms, lead us to a certain type of all or nothing, the volume always turned up to 11, everything is always the most important conflict in the history of society kind of temperature, that makes it really hard to have a conversation that is nuanced and creates some space for difference. And I do think we need to find that. We need to figure out how to have that.

Gautam Mukunda:

We don't usually think of common ground as a place for disagreement, but fruitful disagreement has to happen on common ground, on a shared space where we agree on the facts and many of the goals, even if we disagree on strategies and tactics.

Gautam Mukunda:

Today, basic truths about the world ranging from the effectiveness of vaccines to the reality of global warming are constantly under attack. Agreement about basic truths has to be our common ground, no matter what else we disagree about. Because if we believe that the only people we can stand on common ground with are those with whom we agree on everything, we haven't just narrowed our universe of possible allies, we've also eliminated our ability to hear from people whose disagreements might actually make us better and more right. It might even help us realize when we're wrong. If today's internet and media culture make that harder than it has ever been, then leaders will have to address that problem head on.

Gautam Mukunda:

Do you see people who are actually trying to make those changes, they're making the sort of changes that we want to see more of?

Katie Harbath:

I would say, one thing that I want to see, and I am afraid I don't know if I'm going to have a great example of who I think has been doing this well so far, but is an actual real commitment to diversifying the C-suite. And I mean that across gender, political ideology, but also geographic experiences and racial and all of that.

Katie Harbath:

And I know that's a lot to ask to be putting into a small C-suite bucket, but I very much worry about, again, just coming at this from the tech company perspective, I very much worry about the bubble that some of these companies are in and going more insular versus trying to have that more diverse set of viewpoints, because it can cause that move fast Silicon Valley culture to move slower because of debate that is needed to actually come to consensus around decisions versus being able to move faster.

Michael Slaby:

And look, and I think, slowing down might actually be exactly what we need, right? That's sort of the exponential chase for growth and we'll figure out the downstream consequences later mentality actually might be part of the problem. And this is where business culture, I think, plays a role.

Michael Slaby:

And you talked about CSR earlier. I started to talk about the nature of how a company believes what its responsibility in relationship is to community? What their responsibilities are for leadership? That's not just a soft positioning values-based conversation. That needs to be a more fulsome understanding and a more multidimensional, quantifiable understanding of what a successful company means.

Michael Slaby:

If you make a lot of money and are extractive and exploitative, you are not a successful company, you're not. I don't care that you are killing it on the dimension of commercial success. You're failing on the other dimensions that you need to succeed on to be considered successful. And that kind of shift into a more complex understanding of what it means to achieve, what it means to grow, what kind of growth we need or want, is a cultural shift in business.

Michael Slaby:

And I think there are companies that are trying. And I think some of the companies that have really gotten pinned down hard over the last couple of years are ones that are really going through a reckoning and hopefully coming out the other side with some new behavior.

Michael Slaby:

I might point at Patagonia, which has basically become so values centric they often, to me, feel like a climate advocacy and environmental advocacy group that sells shorts. And I just have a lot of respect for how central they put that and where they put their values and principles relative to profit in a company and how that leadership gets expressed in the way they hire, the way they show up in the world. And I think their cultural leadership is something that is worth following, worth recognizing.

Michael Slaby:

And I think to the question about who would I point to, what individual person, I made the distinction earlier about institutional power and cultural power, I think there are cultural leaders on both sides that are having a lot of impact on how we think about the world, how we think about the systems that we take for granted.

Michael Slaby:

There is an economist in Chicago named Xavier Ramey that I would point to who I think has developed an exceptional voice around the nature of the economic assumptions that we carry around every day.

Michael Slaby:

And I think we see some really valuable, genuine leadership from celebrities that has transcended what we used to think of as celebrity activism to a place where we really see people standing up using the communities and the platforms that they have created and been afforded by their success and putting their values to work and using those conversations to help lead.

Michael Slaby:

And I think it's really important as people don't feel as confident or trusting in some of the institutions that we have traditionally relied on for leadership. The demand from CEOs standing up for civic life that Katie mentioned before, that's everyone now. And I think the possibilities afforded to more voices and cultural leadership gives me a lot of hope over our ability to ultimately reform the institutions and the structures that we need to get back to a place where we have healthy expectations, and we trust them with more clarity, and we feel more connection to them, that there is a path back to that.

Gautam Mukunda:

Common ground requires common values, not just talking about them, although that's very important too, but living by them. Business, as Michael and Katie remind us, has a key role to play in the creation of common ground. Most of us, after all, spend more waking time at work than we do with our families. How we experience life at work shapes how we experience everything, including our civic life.

Gautam Mukunda:

If companies say they will diversify the C-suite and then actually do it, they are benefiting both directly by taking advantage of the higher rate of innovation and broader perspectives that stem from diversity and indirectly by setting an example of living up to your values and by doing their part to build a society where everyone has a voice that is listened to with respect.

Gautam Mukunda:

Common ground and mutual respect are so important that it wasn't surprising those two topics came up when I asked Michael and Katie our final question.

Gautam Mukunda:

Over the course of your careers, you've gotten to know some extraordinary people. And I always love to ask this one, who was the person you met who you found most impressive and why?

Katie Harbath:

What popped into my head is I had the honor a few times at the State Department bringing some really amazing women from around the world who were mathematicians, engineers, scientists, et cetera. And man, were they impressive of the stuff that they were working on, coming from countries that typically did not want to have women even being in those types of roles. Women who were fighting for their education and were just incredibly, incredibly smart. And whenever anybody asks me that question, I immediately think to them because I'm just like, "I'm going to be working for you someday in some way, some way, shape or form."

Gautam Mukunda:

Excellent. And Michael?

Michael Slaby:

In my professional life, I've worked for some amazing people. And I have a lot of regard for the President Obamas of the world and Governor Patrick. And Denis McDonough comes to mind as a very humble leader whose, his humility is really impressive and that I really regard and respect. But the person I'm really thinking of right now is my wife.

Michael Slaby:

My wife is a cancer survivor, and now a public official in our small town and has wrestled with achievement and transformation and death in a way and at a pace and at a time that not that many people have to wrestle with and done it with a lot of grace. And watching her do that, watching her juggle those questions, has helped me juggle the questions about how to use my life and how to use my time.

Michael Slaby:

I use the phrase, "chop wood, carry water," a lot for do your job and be of service. And I think one of the hardest questions for any of us is, which wood and which water? What am I supposed to be doing? And watching my wife wrestle with that, and do it with a lot of grace and a lot of service, has been incredibly impressive.

Gautam Mukunda:

It's easy to romanticize the past. We say that partisan combat is worse now than it's ever been. Is that really true?

Gautam Mukunda:

Alexander Hamilton, a former treasury secretary, was gunned down by Aaron Burr, the sitting vice president. We think that today's media engages in harsh partisan rhetoric. It's easy to imagine someone on Fox say, talking about a Biden speech or MSNBC about a Trump speech saying that, "The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat, dish watery utterances." Well, that was the Chicago Times writing about a speech by an American president, the Gettysburg Address. Perhaps, you've heard of it?

Gautam Mukunda:

So we've had areas of harsh partisan combat in the past, but it's also true that something has changed. The media debates of the past were conducted in the media. You had to get into the newspaper to be heard. Today's cacophony of voices rises up from every part of society and shapes every part of it as well with far fewer gatekeepers, checks and credibility, or even penalties for open lying. It enables an assault on truth the likes of which we have never seen. It makes many of us fear that the viability of democracy itself is under threat.

Gautam Mukunda:

As Katie reminded us, the next few years, we'll see democracy be tested, not just in the United States, but around the world. But, at the same time, people around the world value democracy even, perhaps especially, in places where they don't have it.

Gautam Mukunda:

I was in Hong Kong during the protests last year. Many of you have probably seen images of protestors in Cuba, Iran or Venezuela. I was struck by many things, but one thing in particular. Over and over again, when oppressed people strive for freedom, the symbol they reach for is the American flag. That should make us all proud, but it doesn't mean that our democracy is in good shape. It means that our democracy is important and we need to lead in a way that preserves it.

Gautam Mukunda:

Sometimes that means protesting, standing up against attacks on voting rights or freedom of speech. And sometimes that means listening to each other, building space for the common ground that unites us, even in the midst of the media and politics that divides us, shaping our businesses and our lives into places where we are pushed to create common ground instead of destroy it, where we find things to respect about one another instead of this despise, where even our disagreements are grounded in fundamental values that we agree on, so that our ideas become better, not worse, over time. And we can finally stop yelling at one another and sit back and listen.

Announcer:

World Reimagined with Gautam Mukunda, a leadership podcast for a changing world, an original podcast from Nasdaq. Visit the World Reimagined website at nasdaq.com/world-reimagined-podcast.

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