Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lessons From the Election

Some interesting thoughts on the election from Tim Elmore, president of Growing Leaders:
"Well, we made American history. Barack Obama was just elected as the first African-American president of the United States. It was a clear victory for Senator Obama, if not a landslide in the electoral college. I felt like both Barak Obama and John McCain showed class in their speeches following the election results. Now that it's all over, and the dust has settled, I have reflected on lessons we can learn from this historic campaign. What did the whole thing teach us about leadership and about people? Let me suggest these insights for you to discuss with your team.
1. Leaders must inspire people before they challenge people. This was a big difference between Obama and McCain. John McCain certainly challenged Americans to be a part of a cause that was bigger than themselves. Great sound bite. Healthy habit to practice. Unfortunately, he was unable to inspire the population first. Unlike Senator Obama, he came across a little angry and intense. Obama was able to inspire people with a picture of a preferred tomorrow- like both Clinton and Reagan before him. When leaders do this, people feel they're able to accept the challenge of the present realities they must face.
2. Leaders must build a brand that creates a tribe. As I listened to speeches over the last eight months, it seemed like Senator McCain spent a lot of time trying to distance himself from President Bush. He recognized where the tide of popularity was and wasn't going. However, he didn't create the feel of a "tribe" - - a following of people who have bought into an ideal. This is what Obama did very well. Time will tell whether it is real or not, but Barak Obama developed a brand ("Change You Can Believe In") and a tribe of all colors, ages and socio-economic backgrounds. There was a definite identity as Obama supporters. People want to belong to a tribe-so leaders must create one.
3. Leaders must communicate in an authentic and a fresh fashion. Regardless of who you voted for, you must admit, Barak Obama did what John McCain was unable to do. He communicated in a genuine way with people. He wasn't slick, but he was smooth. Senator McCain, while I liked much of his content, seemed stiff. This is not a substance issue but a style issue. People need to "feel" something as they follow their leader. They want to believe in him or her. They love it when their leader is authentic not plastic. (Authentic means "to author"; or to originate one's own identity.) In addition, people love to follow a leader who uses fresh technology. It gives them the sense the leader is on the cutting edge. Obama did this, McCain did not.
4. Leaders must play offense not defense the majority of the time. This one is subtle but very real. Although John McCain had some noble ideas, it appeared to me as if he was constantly playing defense. As Obama attacked his associations with the Bush administration, McCain was always defending himself. I'm not suggesting he said anything wrong, but that he projected the feel of: "I'm playing defense." He beckoned people to defend him. This is not magnetic to followers. To me, it seemed Barak Obama was able to play off of the "Bush Haters" in America. Frankly, it's easy to convince people not to like something. What he was able to do, however, was to play offense. People follow a leader who plays offense more quickly than one who plays defense. This is why Martin Luther King Jr. had a larger following than Jesse Jackson.
5. Leaders must connect with ordinary people. This one is a lesson from both candidates. People want to see the humanity of their leader. They want to experience a connection with him or her. They want to feel he understands us. They want to believe the leader can identify with them-like the neighbor next door. John McCain did this by talking about his P.O.W. experience in Vietnam. He was a hero, but he was a human who struggled and suffered in his past. Barak Obama did this by talking about his boyhood years, being raised by a single mom and his grandparents - - not a wealthy, nuclear family. And he's from a minority race. People are impressed with a leader's achievements, but they identify with a leader's struggles.
6. Leaders must foster a hope that people can make a difference. The bottom line question in any election is: who inspires more confidence? Napoleon Bonaparte said it two hundred years ago: "Leaders are dealers in hope." The leader who projects greater hope for the people, gets followed. While both senators tried to communicate hope, the season America is in today dictated which one had greater success. McCain spoke of established traditions. Obama spoke of emerging trends. Today, because of the present unrest and uncertainty in our country, people voted for the younger, suave, savvy leader. People felt that Barak Obama had a better handle on where the future was going than John McCain did. If a leader can instill confidence, and if the leader can motivate ordinary people to join them because they will make a difference in history. . . you've got yourself a winning combination.
Obviously Barack Obama was able to create a new culture within his party. I believe this is the challenge of both major political parties, and for that matter, nearly every organization that plans to succeed. As I mentioned before, only time will tell whether President - Elect Obama will rise to the occasion. He does lack experience and the problems we face are bigger than any individual could ever tackle without lots of help from all parties. This article is not an endorsement for either candidate. It is not meant to make a political statement. I simply wanted to toss out some ideas on what happened during the presidential campaign that informs us as we attempt to lead the next generation. I bet you have some of your own. Use this as a platform for discussion to polish your own leadership."
Thanks to my wife, Lori, for sending this article along.

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