Messaging & Leadership Lessons from Mallory McMorrow
A great leader controls the narrative without being nasty.
State Senator Mallory McMorrow stood on the Michigan statehouse floor on April 19, 2022, and gave one of the most impressive speeches of its kind.
She was responding to a colleague’s fundraising email that made the appalling accusation that McMorrow was “grooming and sexualizing children.” (a popular false claim that originated in a group that promotes the scuttlebutt of a cult of pedophiles who are trafficking children and engaging in cannibalism)
With the goal she had in mind, Senator McMorrow’s speech was pure perfection. See her in action:
What She Did
McMorrow stood in her power and delivered a clear, straightforward message.
She focused on the horrid content of the libelous email. What made her message so effective was that her “fight” was with the lies and the tactics, not with the person who wrote them or others who promote the same tales.
She was the model of assertiveness, speaking authentically and firmly (with the perfect amount of outrage), yet without aggression.
Some might call her speech aggressive but I believe there’s an important distinction. Assertiveness is direct, firm, truthful, and unyielding, but it is not mean.
She took control of the narrative.
She quoted the accusations, wondered why she was the target, then shared her realization that she’s the biggest threat to their false claim of standing for parental rights — because she, a parent of the same demographic said no.
She explained their tactics of first de-humanizing the marginalized people whose rights their laws are designed to deny, then de-humanizing McMorrow herself, for objecting to their oppressive campaigns— marginalizing her as “one of them,” — the people they claim are evil.
The brilliant way she addressed the accusations was to tell her own story. The story of a straight, white, married, Christian, suburban mom who practiced her Christian faith by serving others — those less fortunate and those who are marginalized.
She continues to control the narrative by asking, “Who am I?” She answered her own question with “I am a straight, white, married, Christian, suburban mom who knows that ____ ____ _____ (the lies about education, books, blaming white children, etc.) is absolute nonsense.”
That’s the word she used — “nonsense.” The ideal non-inflammatory word to express the ridiculousness of hateful rumors.
Needless to say, she proved beyond any doubt that she’s a person of integrity.
She then called attention to the real issue — the majority’s lack of legislation addressing the needs of the state of Michigan:
“People who are different are not the reason our roads are in bad shape after decades of disinvestment, or that healthcare costs are too high or the reason that teachers are leaving the profession. I want every child in this state to feel seen heard and supported, not marginalized and targeted because they are not straight, white, and Christian.”
What She Didn’t Do
She didn’t take the bait.
She didn’t mention the accuser by name, but simply referred to them as “the senator from the 22nd district.” This effectively identified the person but didn’t dignify her by mentioning her name.
She did not bad-mouth the person who spread falsehoods about her. She did not engage in character assassination. She did not display any of the vengeful behaviors that might have crossed her mind — the ones that many of us engage in too often.
Perhaps she expressed a few choice words in the privacy of her home. But Mallory McMorrow has the maturity and true commitment to her spiritual life to know that it’s unwise to do that publicly. Not, simply because it’s wrong but because it’s almost never effective. Engaging in mud-slinging with nasty opponents, especially for politicians, only proves the suspicions of constituents that “they are all the same.”
The most notable aspect was that McMorrow did not get defensive.
That was key. When we get defensive we are playing into the accuser’s narrative. We are ceding our power to them — we come across as a victim and look like we lack confidence.
I can hear your objections — “I'm not a victim! I’m just not putting up with their lies! I’m fighting back!”
That’s the classic argument, but while it’s understandable to want to deny a horrible accusation, being defensive is not an effective approach. We may feel the need to defend ourselves and counter-attack with our own accusations (because ours are “true”). But your opponent doesn’t care. They laugh and gain satisfaction from seeing you take the bait. They lured you into the mud pit and once you are there, they feel justified slinging more mud and the cycle continues.
McMorrow Demonstrated Leadership
It was stunning how McMorrow talked in detail about her service work yet never sounded like she was bragging. She mentioned what her mother taught her — that being Christian was to be of service, not some performative nonsense of “sitting in the same pew every Sunday or writing ‘Christian’ in your Twitter bio.” She talked about standing on the shoulders of others who had served.
We saw a self-assured, committed lawmaker deliver a riveting message.
She showed leadership by firmly calling on others to do what she had just done. “I know that hate will only win if people like me stand by and let it happen.”
Her integrity and her conscience were revealed along with her clear commitment to the needs of Michiganders.
Her final words to the Michigan legislative body?
“Call me what you want. I know who I am and I know what faith and service means, and what it calls for in this moment. We. Will. Not. Let. Hate. Win.”
Keep your eye on this 35-year-old superstar. There’s no doubt we’ll see her again — next time it might be on the national stage.