An Open Letter to Senators McCain and Obama

Pepper de Callier

Dear Senators,

I am an American living abroad. I care deeply about my country and the challenges it faces in the coming generation and beyond. My wife and I have lived abroad in three different countries over the past five years on a personal journey to learn more about other cultures and, as a result, learn more about ourselves as citizens of the planet and about how our country is viewed from abroad. I know what it’s like to be dismissed as an “American” by people who have yet to hear me speak, and I know what it’s like to be embraced, literally, by someone who thanked me for what my country and its brave soldiers did for his small village in WWII. Unfortunately, there seems to be more of the former reaction lately. As our new president, one of you will have the power to lead us into a new age. It is about the nature of that new age that I write you.

I have spent my professional life helping leaders in the United States, Asia, and Europe understand the texture, scale and scope of their abilities, the perceptions held by others of their abilities as leaders and, more importantly, to understand and navigate the obstacles to their further success.

It’s not easy working with accomplished people with robust egos, especially when you have to tell them that, as the result of a key leadership deficit, they have the interpersonal skills equivalent of bad breath. My experience is that in 90% of the leaders I have worked with, their barrier to greater success and achieving their goals, is not their lack of intelligence, mastery of the details or of a strategic vision for their enterprise. It’s a lack of emotional intelligence. This lack of emotional intelligence not only precedes them as a messenger of disinterest in and lack of respect for others in every interaction they have, it also seeps down into the organization, and, over time, gives the organization a reputation of hubris and not caring for, or respecting, anyone or anything that doesn’t serve its self-interests. There’s a parallel here to running a country.

Righteous indignation, posturing and tough talk are not elements of sustainable leadership and, in the end, they are a waste of time, talent, energy and money. Today, in the 21st century, how you do something can far outweigh what you do in terms of impact, perception and outcome. It’s the how that transcends language and culture differences and sends a lasting message of intent and true feelings.

As the CEO of this wonderful enterprise called America, your how will send a powerful and indelible message at home and abroad—please let it be one that emphasizes an eagerness to learn rather than to teach, a desire to partner than to always lead, an attitude of respect not grudging acknowledgement and, oh, the important part—backing it up with actually doing things that support these elements of global emotional intelligence. For too long, we as Americans have assumed English (and all that it encompasses culturally) to be the lingua franca of globalization and the 21st century. We were wrong.

The lingua franca of the 21st century will not be driven by a language of words. It will be a new form of communication built upon a foundation of wisdom and emotional intelligence.

Good luck to you both.