If you ever wonder how much exposure matters in your ability to influence people, Glenn Beck is as pure an experiment as you’ll find on the public stage. Beck is all heart, no head. As much as he’s attacked for his words, his critics don’t get that his words don’t much matter. What does matter is that by stripping down in front of his audience, with no armor to protect himself or the rest of us from his swirling emotions, he gives his viewers permission to feel things, too. That’s good television.
It’s also good leadership, or at least the foundation for it. Whatever you think of Beck’s politics, he’s been able to influence the behavior of a lot of people over the last six months. The chattering class is confused and appalled. How is it possible that a man who told us FEMA might be building concentration camps has a large and growing following?
I recall seeing him host an obscure cable access show three or four years ago. I was stuck in an anonymous airport hotel in Miami, desperate for distraction from my own circumstances, and I stumbled on his show. I was riveted. I couldn’t leave the room, even with the promise of a fruity, poolside umbrella drink, and I stared for a jaw-dropping hour while he and his guests wrestled openly with their demons. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing or my own reaction to it. Sure, here was a crazy man, talking crazy, but that part got old after a few minutes. What kept me there was the strangely empowering part of the ride. In Glenn Beck’s universe, it was ok to feel things intensely and to channel those emotions into action and progress. This was exciting for a good WASP from Ohio.
I rarely agree with Beck’s proposed actions or definition of progress, but I’m convinced that there are lessons in his ascent for anyone who aspires to leadership. Show up. Remove whatever mask you’re wearing to protect yourself from judgment, and give us regular access to the emotions that drive you.
That means you, too, Mr. President.