Restaurant Owner Forgives Manager for $4,710 Mistake

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The manager of Hawksmoor Manchester steakhouse accidentally served a $5,000 bottle of wine when the guests ordered one priced at $290. The owner forgave her publicly, on Twitter.

Naturally, the conversation doesn’t end there. Jokes abound, one announcing that the manager has since been placed in an “on-site incinerator.”

Others pounced on the expensive wine and criticized the restaurant, to which the owner responded in a tweet:

I’m sure you’re all getting tired of this now, so one last thing, to the people who put homelessness in Manchester next to ‘£4500 wine?!’ and suggesting we have no values: we’ve raised well over £1m for @ACF_UK, work with @WoodSt_Mission and @notjustsoupMCR. We have values.

Discussion:

  • What leadership character dimensions are demonstrated by this story?

  • How well did the owner respond to criticism?

Leadership Challenge at Uber

A New York Times article describes discomfort among Uber’s leadership as the company plans to go public. Founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick wanted to join the company to ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange, a tradition for IPOs. Kalanick still holds a seat on the board and, as founder, he wanted to participate in the company’s joyous moment—and to bring his father.

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Current CEO Dara Khosrowshahi denied the request. For two years, Khosrowshahi has been trying to shed negative public perceptions of Uber, partly attributed to Kalanick’s leadership style and the company’s “bro-culture.”

The article describes a fractured board that didn’t fully support Khosrowshahi and a company that has yet to turn a profit, losing revenue on almost every car ride. Uber follows Lyft’s recent IPO, which has lost about $26 per share since its IPO in March.

Uber image source.

Lyft image source.

Discussion:

  • Did Khosrowshahi make the right decision? Why or why not?

  • Consider Kalanick’s perspective. What’s his point of view? Should he have asked at all?

  • What leadership character dimensions are illustrated by this situation?

Boeing's Crisis Response

At a shareholder’s meeting, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenberg addressed 737 Max safety concerns following two fatal crashes. He started, as predicted, with an apology and sympathy for the “loss of life,” acknowledging the “devastation.” He contrasted these losses with the many Boeing flights that run safely—”roughly every 1.5 seconds.”

Muilenberg didn’t explicitly address issues raised in the past couple of days, particularly a Wall Street Journal article the previous day accusing Boeing of failing to report the safety feature shut-off to airlines (including pilots) and the FAA.

When asked during the Q&A about accountability, Muilenberg spoke mostly about plans going forward. When asked whether he would resign, he talked about his and his employees’ commitment to safety.

At about 9:00 on the video, a reporter asks about whistle-blowers at Boeing, referring to recent reports that employees tried to alert senior management and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Muilenberg says the question is “fair” but doesn’t quite respond to the accountability issue. At about 14:15, a reporter asks, “Can you admit that the design was flawed?” This is after Muilenberg skirts the previous question, blaming a “chain of events.” Still, he would not admit to a design flaw.

And then he ends the news conference, as a reporter shouts, “Sir, 346 died. Can you answer a few questions here about that?” Earlier, another reporter noted that this was the first time they had a chance to meet with him to ask questions.

Discussion:

  • Assess Muilenberg’s delivery skills. What does he do well, and what suggestions would you have for his future news conferences?

  • How well did Muilenberg address reporters’ questions? What, if anything, could he have said differently?

  • What leadership character dimensions are illustrated by this story? How well did Muilenberg demonstrate them?

New Zealand Announces Weapons Ban

Following a shooting at a mosque in Christchurch that left 50 people dead, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a ban on certain types of weapons:

“Today, I’m announcing New Zealand will ban all military-style semiautomatic weapons. We will also ban all assault rifles. We will ban all high-capacity magazines. We will ban all parts with the ability to convert semiautomatic or any other type of firearm into a military-style semiautomatic weapon. We will ban parts that cause a firearm to generate semiautomatic, automatic or close-to-automatic gunfire,” she added. “In short, every semiautomatic weapon used in the terror attack on Friday will be banned in this country.”

She said the decision would accomplish one goal: “to prevent an act of terror from happening in our country ever again.” In a press conference three days prior, the prime minister had promised that the Cabinet planned to take action.

The New York Times compares the process for buying a gun in 16 countries, showing the United States as having the fewest steps.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of the decision and how Prime Minister Arden communicated it to the public?

  • What leadership character dimensions does the Prime Minister demonstrate in this situation?

  • Watch Prime Minister Arden’s press conference and one or two others. How would you describe her delivery style?

HBO CEO Departs

HBO CEO Richard Plepler is leaving the company. His announcement came shortly after HBO’s chair of the board spoke with the WarnerMedia CEO about possibly taking over HBO and Turner.

Here is Plepler’s email to employees:

My dad always gave the best advice. Whenever there was a difficult decision to make, he counseled that since no one could ever have perfect visibility into the future, the best thing you could do was trust your instincts. It has been a touchstone for me throughout my life, and I have found myself returning to it again recently as I think about what is an inflection point in the life of this wonderful company. Hard as it is to think about leaving the company I love, and the people I love in it, it is the right time for me to do so.

In the past weeks, I’ve thought a lot about the incredible journey of this company in the nearly 28 years that I have been blessed to be here. It’s a journey of great pride and accomplishment because so many of you, and many others before us, have made HBO a cultural and business phenomenon. Thanks to all of you, we are today churning on all cylinders both creatively and as a business. Thanks to all of you, I can move on to the next chapter of my life knowing that the best team in the industry remains here to carry on our continued progress and success. As I have said before, this is the team of teams.

It has been the great joy of my professional life to share this ride with you over these many years. And the great honor of my professional life to be your CEO. I don’t have the words to express my gratitude for the support and talent that made our success together possible. But suffice it to say, my love for this place, and for all of you, is deeply a part of me and will last a lifetime. I look forward over the coming weeks to thanking as many of you as I can for the thousands of contributions big and small that have made “this thing of ours,” to quote Tony Soprano, so special. I have told John, who has been nothing but gracious since we spoke, that I would work closely with him to assure a seamless and organic transition.

We’ve created a great and unique enterprise and I know that you will protect its legacy and do all to enhance its future in the years to come.

Know that I will always be cheering loudly, even when I am outside this building, as HBO continues to thrive.

With respect, admiration, and gratitude,
Richard

Image source.

Discussion:

  • Assess Plepler’s email. Who are his primary and secondary audiences? What are his communication objectives?

  • What principles of business communication does Plepler follow, and how could he improve the email?

  • What, if anything, does he give as the reason for his decision? Should he say more about this? Why or why not?

  • What leadership character dimensions are illustrated by his email?

Interview with Delta CEO

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In a LinkedIn interview, Delta CEO Ed Bastian discussed the decision to revoke the National Rifle Association (NRA) discount after the Parkland, FL, shootings, one year ago. The discount was for NRA members, and only 13 took advantage. But the real loss was in $40 million in tax benefits, which Georgia Governor Cagle fought to strike after the company’s decision.

Bastian admits that the loss was significant. But he concludes, “Our brand is worth so much more, and our values are not for sale.”

Bastian refers to the NRA’s “divisive rhetoric” and says that he didn’t want “to be seen as advocates” of the organization and its views. He also describes what we might call authentic or purpose-driven leadership:

"If you know who you are, you can make those decisions. And that you can make those decisions and sleep well at night.”

Discussion:

  • What leadership character dimensions are demonstrated by this situation?

  • Do you think Bastian did the right thing for Delta? Why or why not?

  • How well does Bastian address the interviewer’s question? Overall, how do you assess his delivery?

Walking Meetings: "Take a Hike"

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According to a Wall Street Journal article, employees have had enough of “walking meetings,” typically initiated by a manager who wants to get some exercise. Employees cite exhaustion, bug bites, overcrowding, uncomfortable height differences, crashing into things, and losing people along the way.

On the plus side, people say it boosts creativity and energy, as this infographic shows. Some say it reminds them of college, when their professor held class outside in nice weather. (Do people still do that?)

Comparisons to “The West Wing” abound, but it’s not quite the same without the cameras following you.

Walking meeting image source.

Infographic image source.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of walking meetings? Do the benefits outweigh the costs?

  • Should managers be more sensitive to people who have physical challenges or just prefer to meet inside? How should managers handle these situations?

More About Failure Resumes

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Two years ago, a Princeton professor’s “CV of Failures” went viral, encouraging all of us to admit our misses and view them as learning experiences. This week, The New York Times popularized the idea in an article, “Do You Keep a Failure Resume?

The author advises a strategy:

“When you fail, write it down. But instead of focusing on how that failure makes you feel, take the time to step back and analyze the practical, operational reasons that you failed. Did you wait until the last minute to work on it? Were you too casual in your preparation? Were you simply out of your depth?”

Of course, what he’s proposing is self-reflection. But the approach is rationale: to think through what happened. Research tells us that a more emotional approach—allowing yourself to actually feel negative emotions from a failure—leads to greater learning and makes it less likely that you’ll make the same mistake in the future.

We may avoid failure because we feel shame. The graphic above shows the difference between failing and “being a failure.” Experiencing failure instead of feeling like a failure helps us be vulnerable instead of feeling what could be debilitating shame.

Quote image source.

Being a Failure image source.

Discussion:

  • How do you typically view failure? Do you try to forget about it? Are you harsh with yourself? Or something else?

  • Do you have a process of regular self-reflection? What could you do on a daily basis to learn from both your successes and your failures?

Emails to International Duke Students Sparks Controversy

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Faculty at Duke University Medical Center have been criticized for asking international students to speak only English. The controversy started when an administrator of the biostatistics program sent an email after hearing complaints from faculty members that Chinese students were speaking “VERY LOUDLY” in their native language in “student lounge/study areas.” The faculty expressed concern that students “were not taking the opportunity to improve their English and were being so impolite.”

Also in the email, the administrator said that faculty asked for students’ names so that they might deny them job and project opportunities.

Students took offense and started a petition. In response, the administrator of the program stepped down from her position, and the university posted a letter to students in the program.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of international students speaking in their native language at an American University?

  • Was the administrator out of line? Why or why not?

  • How do you assess the university’s response to the controversy?

  • What leadership character dimensions are at play?

Lawsuit Charges Purdue Pharma Family with Instigating Opioid Crisis

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In a 312-page complaint, Massachusetts lawyers detail how members of the Purdue Pharma family contributed to the opioid epidemic. The complaint shows the company’s aggressive marketing strategy, including how it convinced doctors to over-prescribe drugs.

One argument in the documentation shows how representatives were trained to encourage doctors to prescribe medication to what the company called “opioid-naive” patients:

Purdue also promoted its drugs for opioid-naive patients using the receptive term “first line opioid.” “First line” is a medical term for the preferred first step in treating a patient. Opioids are not an appropriate first line therapy. Nevertheless, Purdue’s internal documents and testimony from sales reps shows that Purdue repeatedly promoted OxyContin as “first line” — “the first thing they would take to treat pain.” (Sic: “first-time opioid” should include a hyphen.)

A 2001 email written by Richard Sackler, whose family owns OxyContin, blames victims:

“We have to hammer on abusers in every way possible. They are the culprits and the problem. They are reckless criminals.”

The lawsuit also charges the family with claiming that opioids are addictive to only one percent of the population, although they had no evidence for that claim.

This lawsuit follows others in Washington, Ohio, and Alabama. Last year, the company did stop promoting opioids.

Purdue image source.

Discussion:

  • Read more in the legal complaint. According to the documentation, how did the company wrongfully use persuasive communication?

  • In some of the documentation, we see ads and tactics that any company might use. Which do you find to be typical examples, and which cross an ethical line?

MSU Gets Another New Interim President

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Michigan State University hired a second interim president. First, President Lou Anna Simon resigned after 13 years following criticism that she didn’t do enough to stop Dr. Larry Nassar from abusing girls. John Engler replaced her as interim president in 2018, but he, too, faced criticism for insensitivity to Nassar’s victims.

Most recently, Engler commented after a $425 million fund was approved for 332 current claimants and another $75 million was approved for additional victims. Engler said, “The people who got the $425 million are probably OK." Engler said he was thinking more about the potential additional victims who haven’t been part of the process yet. He made things worse when he said more:

"You’ve got people, they are hanging on and this has been … there are a lot of people who are touched by this, survivors who haven’t been in the spotlight. In some ways they have been able to deal with this better than the ones who’ve been in the spotlight who are still enjoying that moment at times, you know, the awards and recognition. And it’s ending. It’s almost done.”

People took great offense to his implication that the earlier claimants have “enjoyed the spotlight.” So now, MSU has a new interim president, Satish Udpa.

MSU image source.

Udpa image source.

Discussion:

  • Try to see Engler’s point of view. What was he trying to convey with his comments?

  • We might say that Engler’s comments lacked compassion. What else is problematic about his comments?

  • What’s your view? Was forcing Engler’s resignation the right thing to do? Why or why not?

Report on Larry Nassar

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A new report on the former Olympics coach and doctor, Larry Nassar, blames officials at Michigan State University, the U.S. Olympics Committee (USOC), and USA Gymnastics for allowing his abuse of hundreds of girls over decades. The investigators concluded, “Numerous institutions and individuals enabled his abuse and failed to stop him.”

In some cases when officials learned of an abuse allegation against Nassar, they waited weeks or months to report to; in other cases, officials reported claims but didn’t do enough to follow up. In still other cases, officials did nothing at all.

Nassar was finally convicted and sentenced to what will be life in prison. With the report results, some hope the USOC will now be investigated.

The report aligns with an NPR podcast, Believed, tracing claims against Nassar and his medical defense, which was accepted by too many for too long.

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Discussion:

  • How do you think the abuse continued for so long? If you listen to the podcast Believed, you’ll hear Nassar’s defense during police interviews.

  • Analyze the report. What business communication principles are followed, and in what ways could the report be improved?

GM Lays Off 15,000 Employees

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General Motors will lay off about 15,000 employees and close five U.S. factories. About 2,250 employees accepted a voluntary buyout, which could include six months of pay. But that number wasn’t enough for GM to reach it goals.

About 8,000 salaried employees, or 15% of the workforce, will leave the company. Engineers and designers are hardest hit, and the company will hire more technology workers to focus on electric and hybrid vehicles. The move reflects shifts in consumer preferences against small cars, such as Cruze compact and Volt, in favor of SUVs and trucks. Gas prices are low, so people want larger, more convenient vehicles.

In a statement, GM outlined its plans for the future, and Chairman and CEO Mary Barra explained the decision:

“The actions we are taking today continue our transformation to be highly agile, resilient and profitable, while giving us the flexibility to invest in the future. We recognize the need to stay in front of changing market conditions and customer preferences to position our company for long-term success.”

President Trump said he spoke with Barra and was “very tough.” He also said he’s “not happy” about the plant closings and is hoping for the company to rebuild in Ohio.

Discussion:

  • Evaluate GM’s statement. What business writing principles are followed, and what could be improved?

  • What else, if anything, should GM do to maintain brand image during the cuts? For example, Barra could agree to media interviews. Should she? Why or why not?

Announcing a Restaurant Closing

Danny Meyer gives us a great model of how to write a bad-news message. In his announcement about closing the restaurant North End Grill, Meyer demonstrates communicating with humility and transparency.

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Meyer describes the pain involved in closing a restaurant, including the effect on employees. He admits to mistakes and relates this closing to Tabla, which closed four years ago. He didn’t need to remind us, but he does so humbly, and as a lesson to learn from failure.

Meyer’s message is encouragement for compassionate, transparent communication planning:

All too often in our industry, a padlock on the front door might be the very first notice employees, landlords, and suppliers receive that a restaurant will be closing. 

He also teaches us that leading requires courage:

[W]hen reality dictates closing, we have a choice: to do so in secrecy and shame, or instead, with dignity, integrity, and pride.

Restaurant image source. Meyer image source.

Discussion:

  • Analyze Meyer’s full statement: audience, objectives, writing style, organization, etc. What works well, and what could be improved?

  • In what ways does Meyer’s statement illustrate vulnerability as a leadership strength?

One Way to Increase Understanding

Wanting a break from technology, singer and songwriter Gabriel Kahane traveled the United States by train, meeting people and hearing their stories. Right after the 2016 presidential election, Kahane rode Amtrak trains for almost 9,000 miles to understand how people across the country think and feel.

Kahane describes his strategy for what he calls “radical empathy”:

I set some ground rules for myself when I was on the train. One of the things that I was really interested in doing wasn't arguing with people. And I think that that is sort of one of the fundamental problems that we face right now, is this idea we all sort of have contempt for the other side.

We say, well, I just can't engage with that person. And there were some cases where I failed, and I would then go back to my sleeper car and write in my journal: You argued. You said you weren't going to do that.

Kahane challenges how much importance we place on “efficiency.” He says that downtime gives us space to reflect about shared, complex problems: “I think there's a real consequence to not having that space to just sit silently and think, what is it to be in this other person's body.”

Image source.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of “radical empathy,” as Kahane describes it? What is the value, and what are the downsides of his approach?

  • What character dimensions does Kahane illustrate in this story?

News Conference About Shooting

A former marine shot 12 people in a California bar, and local officials delivered a news conference. Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean spoke first (about 5:00 on the video) to explain officers’ response and what they knew at the time.

We see the sheriff get emotional when answering questions about his deputy, Sergeant Ron Helus, who also died.

The shooting was particularly painful for people at the bar who also survived the Las Vegas shooting about a year ago. One young man, Telemachus Orfanos, survived the earlier incident but not this one.

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Discussion:

  • Assess Sheriff Dean’s statement for content, organization, and delivery. What worked well, and what, if anything, could be improved?

  • Assess how well Sheriff Dean responded to media questions.

Controversy About Wildfires

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As wildfires rage in California, let’s look at controversy about the cause. So far, fires have taken 31 lives, and more than 200 people are missing. Governor Jerry Brown requested federal aid.

In a tweet, President Trump blamed California for poor forest management. This drew a harsh response from the California Professional Firefighters association, which called the statement “dangerously wrong.” In a statement, the group defended state actions, firefighters, and victims:

“The president’s message attacking California and threatening to withhold aid to the victims of the cataclysmic fires is Ill-informed, ill-timed and demeaning to those who are suffering as well as the men and women on the front lines.”

Later, the president tweeted a more compassionate message:

More than 4,000 are fighting the Camp and Woolsey Fires in California that have burned over 170,000 acres. Our hearts are with those fighting the fires, the 52,000 who have evacuated, and the families of the 11 who have died. The destruction is catastrophic. God Bless them all.

Discussion:

  • Analyze the California Professional Firefighters statement: audience, objectives, writing style, organization, etc. How well does the group defend its position?

  • How well does the statement illustrate principles of persuasion: logical argument, emotional appeal, and credibility?

  • Which leadership character dimensions does this situation illustrate?

Google and Facebook Drop Forced Arbitration

Following Google employee walkouts and demands, both Google and Facebook have eliminated the requirement for employees to settle sexual harassment complaints internally. Tech companies Uber, Lyft, and Microsoft made the same change in the past couple of years.

Previously, all of these companies had clauses in their policies, which employees agree to when hired, that forced employees to give up their right to sue the company for sexual harassment.

Critics of forced arbitration say the policy puts victims at a disadvantage. Businesses are more likely to win cases in arbitration than in front of a judge. The internal practice also protects the company from public scrutiny and allows perpetrators to more easily get jobs in other companies, continuing the cycle of harassment.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced Google’s decision and other policy changes in an email to employees, which was posted on the company’s blog:

Hi everyone,

At Google we try hard to build a workplace that supports our employees and empowers them to do their best work. As CEO, I take this responsibility very seriously and I’m committed to making the changes we need to improve. Over the past few weeks Google’s leaders and I have heard your feedback and have been moved by the stories you’ve shared.

We recognize that we have not always gotten everything right in the past and we are sincerely sorry for that. It’s clear we need to make some changes.

Going forward, we will provide more transparency on how we handle concerns. We’ll give better support and care to the people who raise them. And we will double down on our commitment to be a representative, equitable, and respectful workplace.

Today, we’re announcing a comprehensive action plan to make progress. It’s detailed here and I encourage everyone to read it. Here are some of the key changes:

  • We will make arbitration optional for individual sexual harassment and sexual assault claims. Google has never required confidentiality in the arbitration process and arbitration still may be the best path for a number of reasons (e.g., personal privacy) but, we recognize that choice should be up to you. 

  • We will provide more granularity around sexual harassment investigations and outcomes at the company as part of our Investigations Report.

  • We’re revamping the way we handle and look into your concerns in three ways: We’re overhauling our reporting channels by bringing them together on one dedicated site and including live support. We will enhance the processes we use to handle concerns—including the ability for Googlers to be accompanied by a support person. And we will offer extra care and resources for Googlers during and after the process. This includes extended counseling and career support,

  • We will update and expand our mandatory sexual harassment training. From now on if you don’t complete your training, you’ll receive a one-rating dock in Perf (editor's note: Perf is our performance review system). 

  • We will recommit to our company-wide OKR around diversity, equity and inclusion again in 2019, focused on improving representation—through hiring, progression and retention—and creating a more inclusive culture for everyone. Our Chief Diversity Officer will continue to provide monthly progress updates to me and my leadership team. 

I hope you’ll take the time to read the full range of actions we’re announcing today.

Thank you all for the feedback you’ve shared with us. This is an area where we need to continually make progress and are committed to doing so. We often hear from Googlers that the best part of working here is other Googlers. Even in difficult times, we are encouraged by the commitment of our colleagues to create a better workplace. That’s come through very strongly over the past few weeks.

-Sundar

Image source.

Discussion:

  • Analyze Pichai’s message: the audience, communication objectives, organization, writing style, etc. What works well, and what could be improved?

  • Overall, how well does the message address employees’ concerns?

  • Pichai mentions that privacy may be a reason employees choose the arbitration process, but the Times article says arbitration mostly protects the company’s privacy? Should Pichai have omitted this line?

  • What, if any, downsides do you see of Google responding to employees’ demands in this way?

University of Maryland President Resigns

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Following a report about a student death, University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh will resign. Loh had apologized for the loss of Jordan McNair, a football player who died during rigorous training. A Washington Post article quotes the McNair’s attorney about the apology:

Hassan Murphy, the McNair family’s attorney, said Loh “remains the only person thus far in this process who has accepted moral and legal responsibility and has spoken from his heart about what happened.”

“If the university will not do right by Jordan, we promise to explore every possible avenue that will,” Murphy added.

Since then, an investigation uncovered deep issues with the athletics program and a culture of silence: “problems festered because too many players feared speaking out.” An independent committee presented its findings and recommendations in a 200-page report.

Rick Court, the former strength-and-conditioning coach, was terminated, but the athletics director and football coach will remain in their positions. Despite Loh’s recommendation, the University regents encouraged Loh to allow Coach DJ Durkin to return after his suspension. According to the Post article, Loh was permitted to stay at the university through June 2019 only if Durkin stayed on.

Several senators have questioned the decision and accuse the University of putting “athletics over academics.”

The Post also reports that several players walked out during their first meeting with Coach Durkin.

Image source.

Discussion:

  • Did the University regents make the right decision in asking for Loh’s resignation? Why or why not?

  • Did Loh do the right thing by allowing Durkin to return?

  • Analyze the investigation report: audience, organization, content, writing style, and so on. Which business writing principles are followed, and how could the report be improved?

Emotions and Political Views After Synagogue Shooting

A shooter killed eleven people and wounded several others, including three police officers, in a Pittsburgh synagogue. Officials report that the act was motivated by hate, and the shooter is quoted saying, “I just want to kill Jews.” The Washington Post calls it, “The deadliest attack on Jews in the history of the United States.”

President Trump condemned the shootings: “This wicked act of mass murder is pure evil . . . . hard to believe and, frankly, something that is unimaginable.” The president also promoted the idea of armed guards: “If there were an armed guard inside the temple, they would have been able to stop them. Maybe there would have been nobody killed except for him, frankly.”

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto disputed this view: “The approach we need to be looking at is how we take the guns—the common denominator of every mass shooting in America—out of the hands of those looking to express hatred through murder.”

During a news conference, Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich gave an emotional statement, calling the crime scene “horrific.”

Image source.

Discussion:

  • We see Hissrich’s emotions during the news conference. He demonstrates authenticity and vulnerability. How do you view his delivery?

  • President Trump’s comments during this time are controversial. What’s your view? How might your own feelings about gun advocacy or gun control affect your perspective?