Leadership lessons from the 2016 election


vote buttonDepending on when in November you read this, the votes will have been counted and election 2016 will almost be over. Most Americans cannot wait.

Whether you’re looking at a local race or the race for president of the United States, lessons about leadership can be gleaned from all levels. And actually, this might be the best takeaway from the 2016 elections. Many of us have looked at the presidential election, shaken our heads and agreed with the person who quipped, “Three hundred and nineteen million people, and we narrowed it down to this?”

Let’s look at the candidates and learn what we can about important leadership do’s and don’ts.

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson

For the past five months, I have traveled in and out of the United States and everywhere I go I hear, “Is this the best America has to offer?” Many would say that as the most powerful nation in the world we should have droves of qualified, exceptional men and women lined up, all of whom would make a phenomenal president. So why doesn’t that happen?

It is because the system is not set up to raise the best leaders to the top. Instead, we promote the person who raises the most money, has the strongest backers or has done the most “favors” for the key gatekeepers along the way.

Instead, we should develop future leaders so that when you are looking to promote someone, you have an abundance of choices. Leadership Lesson #1: Make sure in your organization the system is set up to support rising stars, not tear them down.

During this current campaign season, we have seen candidates discuss everything except their vision. A clear vision is foundational to a true leader. Their message is about what we can do together working as a team, not about the shortcomings of the other candidates.

Real leaders focus on their messages and let the sideshows go on around them without participating. They have too much they want to get done to allow themselves to be drawn into the fray. Leadership Lesson #2: Leadership is about leading the discussion and staying true to the vision of the future, not getting sucked into the abyss of negativity.

To measure someone’s character, look at how they behave when things do not go their way. Great leaders hold themselves accountable. They don’t blame microphones, the media, the election process, or what other secretaries of state have told them. If a leader cannot overcome these relatively small challenges, how can we expect them to handle the big issues? Leadership Lesson #3 – Great leaders take responsibility for outcomes. Period.

How will the candidates support the process when it is over? Will they congratulate their rivals and vow to move on to work for the good of their business or government? Will they bring home the drive, passion and support that was demonstrated during the campaign season and use it to make the school district, city, county, state or United States a better place? Most importantly will they clean up their campaign signs so that I don’t have to look at them for the next year on the side of the road? Leadership Lesson #4 – At the end of the day, leadership is about showing up whether or not you win the election, land the promotion or get chosen to lead the project.

Confucius once said, “Instead of being concerned that you have no office, be concerned to think how you may fit yourself for office. Instead of being concerned that you are not known, seek to be worthy of being known.”

As painful, frustrating and sometimes comical as this election has been, it provides a perfect opportunity for us to reflect on the good, the bad and the ugly. My hope is that future leaders will take advantage of this chance to learn from the failures and successes of this election and take to heart how they may better “fit themselves for office” or become more “worthy of being known.”



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