Tag Archives: Potus

Insults and the Insulting Leaders Who Use Them

I recently read an article on foreignpolicy.com discussing how the media and U.S. policymakers commonly depict North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, as irrational. The piece explains the current state of affairs from Kim’s point of view and provides historical reasons that may validate his behaviors. While I’m certainly not condoning Kim, it does remind me of the power in diplomacy.

Many U.S. politicians have verbally assaulted North Korea over the years. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said, “We are not dealing with a rational person, who has not had rational acts, who is not thinking clearly” and President George W. Bush labeled them as part of an “Axis of Evil.” My question is why you would want to insult someone with whom you’d like to build a constructive relationship?

This isn’t the first time I’ve considered this. I remember when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi continuously insulted Republicans while she was concurrently trying to gather votes for the Affordable Care Act. Or when a Congressman shouted “You lie” to President Obama during a joint session address. Or when a Democratic Congresswoman called her Republican colleague a “Howdy Doody-looking nimrod” during a budget debate. You could even go back to when Theodore Roosevelt disagreed with then President Benjamin Harrison calling him “a cold-blooded, narrow-minded, prejudiced, obstinate, timid old psalm-singing Indianapolis politician.”

In each of these cases, one politician was in the process of garnering support for his/her legislation; and in each case, they allowed productive debate to be disrupted by empty slurs…and they were empty. There was no substantive argument or strategic need for discord. It was frustration, pure and simple, boiling over in ineffective ways.

In the newspapers, we see this [politician] insulting that one, that one says this about the other one, but in a society where the standards of politics has fallen so much – I am talking about world society – we lose the sense of building society, of social co-existence, and social co-existence is built on dialogue.—Pope Francis

Now I am not so naïve as to argue for kumbaya-like unity, nor am I compelling you to admire your rival, but insults are not the pathway to results. Even President Trump on occasion (very rare occasion) has recognized the destructive nature of insults:

We don’t need to like the other person or agree with their point of view. We do, however, need to find ways in which to support a culture of mutual respect where work can get done with all affected parties. This, if nothing else, is a core responsibility of a leader.

As leaders, we must be focused on getting things done. This sometimes entails swallowing your spiteful thoughts in the pursuit of progress. You cannot bring people together if you’ve already alienated them and their ideas. It does not mean you should pretend to be in accord; just that you can be nice.

Don’t let pettiness distract from your ability to influence. In the midst of intense discord, feelings are raw and people tend to act out, but this does not excuse impolite behavior. Find an outlet for your resentment, but also find the right time and do it in a way that will not sabotage your deal. With practice, who knows, maybe you’ll even win them over to your side.

When Did Opposition Become Obstruction?

In today’s political climate, there has been a focus on the “oppositional” party. How the “less represented” party tries to push their agenda forward has always been a talking point. The difference is in the tactics that have been used during the previous Presidential administration and have continued into the current one. It’s the difference between opposition and obstruction.

By definition, oppositional parties tend to be against the policies of the “ruling” party and/or person(s) in power. This is an important part of a democracy. Through debate and discussion, they ensure we retain checks and balances. The ruling party is held accountable and the views of a broader range of constituents are represented.

While oppositional parties work against those in power, traditionally they have also been willing to work with their foes to some degree, while retaining the focus on their agenda. That is the key differentiator between opposing and obstructing.

The duty of the opposition is to oppose.—Winston Churchill

Obstructionists are those members of the opposing party who refuse to not only work with those in power, but purposely block their opponent’s progress. It does not matter whether the decision is justified and reasonable, which it often is. It does not matter whether they agree with the progress being proposed, which they often do. And it does not matter whether the majority have the right/ability to make the change, which is often the case. An obstructionist’s goal is to stop the rival at whatever the cost.

The obstructionist knows that to give a little is to concede. The fallout is irrelevant as are the consequences of their actions. Even if an obstructionist loses, they can show that they are not complicit in the outcome. Could they have made the solution better with their insight? Sure, but then their supporters would think they’re weak and without core principles.

If there is a nuclear tactic being used here, I submit it is the use of that obstruction where a willful minority blocks a bipartisan majority from voting on the President’s judicial nominees.—John Cornyn, U.S. Senator

This was not always the case. Politic use to be about compromise; it use to be about taking part in the process without an instinctually defiant stance. When you disagreed, you argued your points. You bargained for your agenda. You helped shape the solution so it included some of your party’s input. But this only happens through participation…and obstructionists refuse to participate.

This is a lesson for leaders. If you want to make an impact, if you want influence within your organization, don’t allow your feelings of opposition to transmute into obstructionist behaviors. Removing yourself from the discussion does not mean you are more ideologically pure, it means you are giving others a valid reason to cut you out of the decision making. While you may not like what others are proposing, a willingness to compromise will allow your concerns to be heard and may shape the end-result in a way that makes it more palatable for those who oppose it. Or, you can cover your ears and repeatedly yell, “NO.” I’m sure your opponents didn’t want to hear your views anyway.

Is Substance for Suckers? One More Leadership Lesson from Donald Trump

Back in August, I wrote an article on leadership lessons from Donald Trump. At the time, the GOP Convention was about to begin at which time Trump would officially become the Republican presidential nominee. While I was not thrilled with the thought of a Trump presidency, I was able to provide a few research-supported leadership techniques utilized by Trump that can be beneficial to anyone in or aspiring towards a leadership position.

Such techniques as repeating key words, maintaining a strong vocal presence, and creating a common enemy have earned Trump the highest position in the USA. It doesn’t matter that he has no actual plan to make America great again. Or that his twitter account is filled with nonsensical tirades. Or that he consistently contradicts every statement he makes (often within the same speech). Trump won, and he did so by connecting with the crowd.

Ah, the crowd—that nameless, faceless group of supposed likeminded people. If you’ve read James Surowiecki’s popular book Wisdom of Crowds you may think the populace is smarter than the individual (and since Trump lost the popular vote there may be merit in this argument). I, however, continue to side more towards Gustave Le Bon’s classic 1895 study The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind.

In his research, social psychologist Le Bon discusses the attributes of those who successfully lead crowds. First, he describes them as “more frequently men of action than thinkers.” They “are not gifted with keen foresight” but that’s considered to be a good thing since it prevents them from expressing doubt and inactivity. Confidence is king and these leaders display it in droves.

Next, crowd-based leaders are able to stir an arousal of faith through ideals pertaining to religion, politics, or societal ideas. Their intensity of faith gives power of suggestion to their words and, according to Le Bon, influences “men gathered in a crowd [to] lose all force of will, and turn instinctively to the person who possesses the quality they lack.”

The great events of history have been brought about by obscure believers, who have had little beyond their faith in their favour.—Gustave Le Bon

The final attribute is simplicity. Leaders of crowds deliver boiled-down concepts presented in a straightforward, uncomplicated manner. Context is distracting, as is an overreliance on details.

Notice that these three attributes do not include expertise, know-how, or anything resembling substance. They are all predicated on how a leader presents himself—confidence trumps foresight, faith in the institution trumps strategy, and simplicity trumps intellectual discourse.

There was a recent study in Industrial and Labor Relations Review stating, “the benefit of having a highly competent boss is easily the largest positive influence on a typical worker’s level of job satisfaction.” Sure, you may believe employees are far happier when their leader has a deep technical expertise in the core activity of the business, but let’s get real. We had a presidential nominee with more technical expertise than any other candidate in the history of the country, and she did not win.

If you decide to model Trump, stop combing through your morals, beliefs, and worldviews to formulate an ideology. Don’t waste your time building expertise to become an individual of substance. To be a leader in the vein of our new President, all you need is a brand… and that brand is winning. Display an air of self-assurance. Commit to a sentiment, not any one belief. Then deliver it in one-word declarations.

In the end, I’m still betting on competence. And though I am interested in how emulating Trump’s leadership style pans out for you, you may first want to wait and see how it works for the United States.

Veep’s Selina Meyer on Attaining Dominant Prestige

veepHave you ever asked yourself why you want to be a leader? There are easier (and more profitable) professions. So what motivated you down this career path? With some reflection, you may realize that you are a Veep.

Veep refers to the HBO series about Vice President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and her navigation through the political melee in Washington, D.C. While funny and seemingly outrageous, more than one Washington insider has cited how eerily accurate it portrays politicians and operatives.

Meyer and the rest of the characters are painted as either dominant-driven or desperate for adoration. Coincidentally, a new research study from Kellogg’s Jon Maner and Charleen Case examined these two leadership styles and how they are used in different kinds of organizations. The study shows a strong correlation between a desire for power and being motivated by both dominance and prestige, although one tends to be more overriding than the other.

Leaders leaning towards dominance rely on intimidation and coercion. They demand respect and strong-arm to ensure that others are following them. On the other hand, leaders motivated by prestige are more concerned with being liked. They attempt to earn respect and consider themselves to be a role model for the team.

dominance-v-prestige

If you have some preconceptions about which style is more effective, they each have pros and cons depending on the circumstances. According to the study, dominant-oriented leaders tend to make swift decisions and can successfully unite their team behind a single vision. But be warned, they are also willing to sacrifice the best interest of the group so as to remain in power.

I’m the Vice President of the United States…! These people should be begging me! That door should be half its height so that people can only approach me in my office on their <censored> knees!—Selina Meyer

Prestige-oriented leaders are skilled at fostering creativity; however, because their power is based on being liked, they have a tendency to make popular decisions over the “right” decision…or do they? The research shows that these leaders will block what they see as the best course of action when making a public decision that will be unpopular, yet if the decision is made without others knowing, these leaders will choose the best option for the group.

You bet it was. It was a huge pleasure to meet me.—Selina Meyer

So what kind of leader are you, a transparent bully or a duplicitous chum? Would it surprise you if I suggested you be both? According to Maner:

When you need all the people on your team to present a unified front and move quickly in a common direction, when you don’t have time to have people thinking outside the box, that situation really calls for a dominant leader. Conversely, if you’re trying to get your team to innovate or produce creative solutions, that calls for more of a prestige-oriented strategy.

Successful leaders possess the insight and emotional intelligence to read the situation, know how they are perceived, and understand their organization’s culture. After assessing, they can then determine whether to employ dominance or prestige. It may take another second of thought, but one size does not fit all. Even Selina Meyer knows that (even if she does not adhere to it).

The United States of Rebranding

GeorgeWashingtonDid you know George Washington was not really the first President? This widely-held belief has been propagated for over two centuries. So how does a historical misnomer of such proportion occur? It took a massive rebranding strategy.

For a quick history lesson, the United States declared its independence in 1776, thirteen years before Washington took office. In this time, eight men held the position of President (ten if you include the two who presided before the Articles of Confederation were ratified). Granted, they were considered to be President of the Constitutional Congress, which is different than President of the United States, and their authority was extremely limited in power and scope. Yet these forgotten forefathers were responsible for holding the thirteen states together (no easy task) and defeating Great Britain in the Revolutionary War.

When Washington became the president under the current United States Constitution, there was a determined effort to start anew. This independence marks the establishment of the country as we know it today. In theory, it is not much different from a company trying to reinvent itself.

To ensure your rebranding campaign is successful, here are four things our founding fathers considered when redesigning the government and the presidency.

Define Your Mission

Any rebranding strategy needs to begin with an understanding of what you are trying to accomplish. Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were pushing for democracy over monarchy to a group of people wanting a greater sense of freedom. Your intentions may be less consequential, but you need to believe in the purpose before investing your energy.

Ask yourself, “Why do we need to rebrand?” Are you repositioning, scaling up, inviting a new audience, introducing a more diversified product line? Knowing the why will allow you and the team to focus and generate more pertinent ideas.

Research the Competition

If you are going to put the effort into rebranding a product/service that people are already familiar with, you need to know what your competitors are doing and how your new persona will compare. For our pre-1776 brethren, living in a Britain-dominated territory for a few hundred years provided a unique opportunity to understand the enemy. Representatives also spent time in London among Parliament.

Since you most likely don’t have the advantage of getting first-hand intel from the competition, you’ll need to dig into the research. To ensure you remain cutting edge, conduct ongoing studies in two areas—within your industry (How is the market changing?) and outside it (How can the product/service be more relevant?).

Pursue Allies

Reinvention does not happen without a support system. This is no slight against your willpower; it is a product of leading people who possess free will. Just as America could not have won the war without France, Spain, and the Dutch Republic providing supplies and soldiers, you cannot make sustainable changes with your alliances.

Put time into communicating with the team. If you are making a change, you need to tell the story why. Explain how it will benefit the organization, the customers, and those within the company. Promote collaboration and celebrate milestones as they are achieved.

Create an Action Plan

Nothing happens without a plan. The Articles of Confederation and the Constitution served as a plan for how the United States would conduct itself. There were also financial plans on how to pay the war, military plans to fight the war, and structural plans for rebuilding after the war.

Establish your timeline for preparing and implementing changes. Designate priorities, allocation of resources, deadlines, and measurements for success along the way. Then specify the role of each team member who is accountable for each task. Check your plan periodically and make adjustments as needed.

To remain competitive, your brand cannot stagnate. You don’t necessarily need to cleanse your history of those who preceded your new image, but you must evolve and adapt with the times. Whether it’s a total overhaul or a just few adjustments, we can all use a bit of reinvention. That’s why we amend the Constitution and our organizations—to change, develop, and become a better version of ourselves.