idea light bulb.jpgWriting for The Hill, pundit Kathy Kemper just published a thoughtful piece on “Debt and immigration.”  In it she contrasts American policy-makers’ obsession with the financial Sword of Damocles, set to behead us on August 2, with Norway’s all-consuming focus on the aftermath of a xenophobic madman’s gutless acts of murder and mayhem. 

Americans, it seems, can think only of financial insecurity (apparently because Casey Anthony remains in hiding), while Norwegians grapple with societal insecurities and aspirations, and ultimately, the proper response to racial and religious hatred.

Kemper reasons that security is about more than fiscal rectitude and the age-old debate over spending on guns versus butter:   

In reality, defending the homeland requires a continuous flow of the world’s best: individuals who understand the changing constellation of threats to our nation; discern which among those will grow more important in the years to come; and design “hard” systems and “soft” policies to respond to them dynamically.

There are at least two other reasons why immigration is so crucial:

(1) ‪It keeps our nation young. Indeed, if — and it’s a big if — we’re able to sustain our immigrant inflow, we should be able to avoid the demographic challenges that beset the EU and ‬Japan (and which, within another decade or two, will begin to take a toll on China).

(2) America, above all, is an idea, perhaps the most important component of which is openness: openness to people, to ideas, to risk taking. An America that closes itself off will guarantee its decline. Harvard University’s Joe Nye has argued that “the greatest danger to America is not debt, political paralysis or China; it is parochialism, turning away from the openness that is the source of its strength and resting on its laurels.”

If, as Kemper rightly posits, America is an idea, then to keep our mental synapses firing, we as a nation need many more immigration thought leaders. 

In the immigration sphere, thought leaders are not likely or often found in the halls of Congress.  Rather, they are all around us — in our schools, coffee shops, law offices, think tanks and foundations.  They are Tweeters, bloggers, artists, activists, journalists and especially, DREAMers.  While they can be sighted in many places across the country, their numbers are insufficient to turn the tide of anti-immigrant hate speech, jingoism and Fortress-America messaging that passes as the “fair and balanced” offering of competing ideas. 

Immigration thought leadership is about speaking truth to power, about setting aside any pretense of faux objectivity, as Paul Krugman opined today in “The Centrist Cop-Out“:

Some of us have long complained about the cult of “balance,” the insistence on portraying both parties as equally wrong and equally at fault on any issue, never mind the facts.

I’ve thought quite a bit about the scarcity of immigration thought leadership (especially when my muse escapes me on any given Saturday as I scrounge for a fresh topic to post on dysfunctionality in our visa and entry policies).  Recently, Martindale-Connected, the social media site for lawyers, offered me the chance to ruminate on thought leadership via podcast (available here) and in writing here: “5 Steps to Go From Thoughtful Lawyer to Thought Leader on Social Media Sites (and Other Places).”

The five steps I described apply to any form of thought leadership, but especially to immigration and to budding thought leaders with no “Esq.” after their names:

  1. Thought Leadership Requires a Provocative and Enduring Topic. Blogging and article writing often serve as the centerpiece of many a thought-leadership strategy. More than a few lawyers who blog or write law-related articles, however, make the mistake of using the medium as merely a way of reporting on key cases and new statutes in order to demonstrate expertise in the subject. Thought leadership demands more. Thought leaders do not merely report new legal developments; they shed light on fundamental problems, offer critical analysis, discuss practical implications in the real world, and suggest solutions. Thought leaders are never boring. They take adverse possession from other lawyers over a particular area of law and own it by developing a voice and overcoming the fear of being too controversial. They select a topic that interests them (so that their passion remains on display), and a subject with legs that will generate eyeballs. One way to do this is by focusing on the actions of the government, federal or state, executive, legislative or judicial. As my blog, illustrates, government officials are always doing something controversial that upsets someone. A controversial topic is one that readers naturally want to understand. The thought leader’s writings help them, over time, to understand the controversy and make up their own minds. Thought leaders are not afraid of controversy, but they always remember that they need not become the controversy.
  2. Thought Leaders Are Remarkable and Grow a Tribe. Seth Godin is a maven of thought leadership. Among many of Seth’s suggestions, two stand out: A) Be remarkable; and B) Build a tribe. Thought leaders generate conversations. They are worthy of discussion among existing and prospective clients, colleagues, government officials and adversaries. They are remarkable. They are never boring or lackluster, and are not afraid of tooting their individual horns tastefully, for unless they do, they know that there might not be any music. Given these characteristics, thought leaders necessarily draw people to them. They form a tribe around their chosen topic, a community of interest, not necessarily all of like mind, that wants to know and learn more. Ask yourself, Attorney: Is your writing dull and soporific? Do you reflect your passion in your posts? Do you offer a point of view? Do you go outside your comfort zone in expressing yourself in visible ways? Are you operating from a Rolodex of disconnected people or have you built a network of thoughtful and interested members who see you as a thought leader? Do you share with your tribe the interesting thoughts of others? Do you connect tribe members with each other?
  3. Thought Leaders Understand and Use Leverage. Thought leaders do not write single articles. They mount visibility campaigns around each and every article they author. Thought leaders know (no matter what a publisher says) to keep the copyright on their writings so that they can be repurposed in other publications, perhaps with an updated or tailored introduction to suit the new audience, or perhaps not. They Tweet and post status updates in Facebook and LinkedIn about every one of their articles, speeches, case victories (with client consent) or significant activities, offering link-backs to their analytical writings and their online profiles. They also regularly post links to new government announcements, new cases and statutes and the writings of others, usually also with a link to their own analysis of the latest development and its impact, and suggested strategies. They join and actively participate in Martindale Connected. They post articles on Google Knol and search for article directories to find additional opportunities and venues through which to post.
  4. Thought Leaders are Disciplined and Reliable. No flash in the pan, thought leaders understand that consistent messaging, over time, with predictable regularity, is the only way to gain visibility and mindshare. Rain or shine, they write, post, update, Tweet and repeat the cycle, over and over. Too many lawyers think that one article every six months is enough to produce results. It is not. Thought leaders recognize that building a tribe means being responsible to your community. It is less a job than a calling. Nothing is worse for one’s reputation as a thought leader than a blog with a stale posting, months old, or the occasional posting, months apart.
  5. Thought Leaders are Ethical and Responsible. Publicity without propriety does not a thought leader make. Thought leaders respect the rules of professional responsibility, refrain from misrepresenting the truth or engaging in personal attacks, label their writings as “attorney advertising” where required by state ethics rules, and do not take public positions that conflict with the interests of their clients. Thought leaders are not empty suits. They provide excellent client service and zealous advocacy, for these attributes are not only inherently important but also create the environment from which new insights and thoughts with which to exhibit leadership sprout.

thought leaders.jpgIf we Americans are to maintain our unhaughty claim of Exceptionalism, that is, our heritage as a perpetually vibrant and constantly replenished nation of immigrants, then we must produce many more thought leaders who can win what Kemper describes as the “debate over immigration [which] gets to who we are and, more importantly, who we will be.” The growing ranks of immigration thought leaders, however, must not, as Krugman warns, make “nebulous calls for centrism, [the] big cop-out. . . that only encourages more bad behavior.”  Rather, in my view, they must call out extremism wherever it surfaces and help direct our people to embrace the nation’s true saving grace — more enlightened and just immigration policies.