What Leaders Can Learn from the Election
By now, we’ve all had a few weeks to reflect upon the aftermath of one of the more tumultuous elections in American history, the election of Donald Trump for President of the United States. There are plenty of lessons to be learned from the election, one of which is how we can develop as leaders.
Good Leaders Listen
Looking at the election, President-Elect Trump and Secretary Clinton’s votes were split almost evenly (at the time of this writing, Secretary Clinton led by 1.8 percentage points in the popular vote). That means the race was far closer than most people realized. There was information that was missed. Many cite the fact that the two political sides haven’t been listening to one another as the cause for the oversight.
This often happens in business. Information is available to leaders, but for one reason or another, it is either ignored or undervalued in the light of competing information. Perhaps it’s cliché, but it can never be overstated: As leaders, listening is one of the most important things we must do in order to be effective. It’s a skill that must be developed over time. It goes beyond simply hearing words and seeks to interpret the less-obvious cues around us. Leaders have to be particularly effective at filtering out noise. C-Suite leaders, for example, can often find themselves surrounded by “yes” people who don’t necessarily tell things like they are. Learning to “hear between the lines” and even to spend time talking to and listening to people outside the immediate circle of leadership is critical.
Of course, it can also be difficult. It requires humility to hear things that we don’t want to hear, or to face challenging realities. It’s been said that the media and experienced political insiders were so opposed to the election of Donald Trump that they refused to entertain the possibility of him winning. It was just too challenging to consider, despite polling data that spread the two candidates within the margin of error. Don’t get caught in the same trap. Always consider less likely outcomes and how they can impact your organization.
Keep a Close Eye on the Bigger Picture
The presidential election didn’t happen in a vacuum. There have been several historic votes around the world in 2016 with outcomes that weren’t fully predicted, but, in retrospect, should have been recognized ahead of time. The most notable one was Brexit. Other conservative nativist/populist outcomes in countries like Austria and France happened in the middle of the American campaign season, too. Some outlets recognized this reality (even if they did qualify it). Others simply didn’t.
Leaders must always see the bigger picture. They must know how to effectively predict trends and react competently so that followers respect the direction being taken. Great leaders often appear to have a certain clairvoyance about them, but it’s not hocus pocus. It’s an ability to see the big picture and derive conclusions and action steps. Always pay attention to what’s happening among people inside the organization and the environment outside of it. What are competitors doing? What’s happening in the local and macro economy? What’s happening politically? It requires the diligent study of what is happening in a lot of different areas and distilling it down into a conclusion about where to go.
Leaders are Responsible for Culture
Voters and the media widely lamented that the 2016 presidential election was a choice between the lesser of two evils. Whether or not you view either candidate as “evil,” it’s reasonable to conclude that their prominence as political figures is a reflection of the culture that put them there, good or bad.
The people you lead, your partners, managers, staff, and even clients will abide by the culture you establish and exemplify. Do you want people around you who are optimistic, early risers, and high achievers? If so, you must first relentlessly demonstrate those traits. Those who follow your lead will succeed. Those who don’t will weed themselves out. It undermines your own moral authority to demand otherwise from those who follow you if you do not set the example.
True leadership is extremely hard, challenging work. It requires open ears, a capable mind, and significant will power. This election showed us is that it may be time to reevaluate where we are in those areas. We need to shore ourselves up where we are deficient. Being honest with ourselves and making the appropriate tweaks to the ways we lead will pay dividends in our personal careers and for our organizations.