The western world is currently experiencing major changes in the political status quo. The USA has inaugurated Donald Trump and the UK is still working out what the Brexit vote will actually mean. As someone working in the fields of leadership and emotional intelligence I think there are some really important lessons about humanity that we need to address here.
Before I do, I would like to point out that my personal politics are irrelevant to my approach here. Though I would not have voted for Trump, I respect that he won according to the system. Though I voted remain, the people of the UK did largely vote to leave. Personally being unhappy with results is no grounds for what I am about to say.
Leadership is a broad term that comes with many branches and styles. My general definition of a leader is someone who inspires people to follow by creating a vision of what should be. Regardless of whether someone is authoritarian, transactional, servant, or any other type of leader, they must all must follow this rule to gain power. (Not to be confused with a boss who is usually just granted power).
There are many who react to Trump’s election with disgust (or the thought of Hilary being elected). “Why would anyone vote for them?” A valid question to be considered…
It often comes down to the personality of the leader – the way they hold themselves, their presence, ideals and general way of doing things which allows people to predict their behaviour in situations. Alternatively people consider their plans to make changes, their policies and promises. The combination of these elements creates the overall vision which people may support or oppose.
A very important thing to remember in the case of the election and Brexit is that there were only two real choices. Both sides of the coin had the responsibility to make clear visions for voters to make informed choices about…
What do I believe in / stand for?
What will I do?
How will money be spent?
What timeline will action be taken in?
It appears to me that Trump was the only person who actually answered some of these questions. I personally do not like the answers, but he has made promises/claims and his character is quite clear to all those who see him speak. His vision is easy to grasp and connects to some people.
Both sides of the Brexit vote were unclear about what would happen after the vote, either way, which is why we are left in confusion and why the vote was so close. Neither side was clear about what they were doing, and without a vision voters are left uninspired and many do not even turn out.
We need to think carefully about the type of people we allow to be leaders, ensuring they have the capacity to generate a clear vision that people can understand and vote for or against.
Demand Ethical Politics
On the whole we agree with this statement. More worryingly, on the whole we accept this. As if it is a given of the job that there will be some dishonest dealings and there is nothing we can do about it. When did we get so jaded and apathetic that we allowed power to be synonymous with hypocrisy and dishonesty?
One of the major factors that muddies the water during campaigns for any political decision is the misuse of information, mudslinging and downright lying.
Many people I have spoken to about Brexit say that one of their major influencers was the £350 million a week that was promised to be saved and spent on the NHS instead. Though that amount was spent on the EU, campaigners deliberately left out rebates and costs of leaving the trade market in order to sound as impressive as possible. Their promise was based on a known lie. Which could mean that votes were based on lies.
If we entered into any sort of contract based on a lie, as consumers or employees we would have the right to challenge it: cancel the contract, return the product or claim damages from the trading standards agency. But as voters we do not for some reason.
Consider also, what it may look like if politics was run exactly like a business should be run. If your CEO had been squandering expenses, left sensitive data in a public domain, had been found lying or any of these types of practice, action would be taken – HR would be in with written warnings, investigations, suspensions and ultimately the removal of that person for unethical and irresponsible practice.
Yet… our politicians seem to be outside the realms of the traditional HR system.
It is fruitless to complain about the limited type of leaders we can choose from when we are still running on a system that favours those who can manipulate and play the system. When we demand that the system prevents misconduct or immediately tackles it then we will find ourselves with a very different type of leader to choose from. This would perhaps change the status quo in a positive way that people are deep down yearning for.
Empathise with Opposition
We all come with our own mixture of motives and attitudes. Two, ten or a hundred people could all vote the same way for a completely different reason and only by talking to them will we understand what that reason is.
Similarly those who do not vote the same way as us will have a reason that we cannot simply assume. I have heard a lot of people arguing about recent votes and accusing others of very distressing things. We cannot assume someone is racist, sexist, communist, xenophobic, spineless, stupid, complacent, tokenistic or lazy just because of the outcome they choose.
We must learn to empathise – to understand someone’s position in life by imagining what it must be like to be them. This can only happen when we listen with an open mind and put our own attitudes to one side for a moment – not easy in an age of keyboard warriors and fast paced communication.
Understanding why people voted helps you to uncover their needs and priorities. Potentially even incorporating these into a new vision that they would prefer to get behind.
Through discussion you may find that a small number of people actually have discriminatory beliefs about others that they base their votes on. But consider this, if they are simply name called, how will you ever end that discrimination? Once again, empathy is the key. It may be they had a negative experience that grew a false belief. It may be that they have only heard stories from a biased media source. It may be that meeting someone of that stereotype who can be empathetic to them would dissolve their negative beliefs.
If everybody stopped to understand with an open mind before they made their point, the world would be a much more peaceful place.
Protest with Love
I find protests, petitions and campaigns very uplifting. The idea of people coming together to support a cause or oppose something fills me with a sense of unity. However, such events are often spoiled when people revert to name calling and character assassination.
Protest ideas and behaviours, not people! Writing witty placards calling people names does not count as sufficient protest. In fact, it stinks of childish sore loser syndrome. I have seen many internet discussions quickly revert into name calling and both sides become even more cemented in the original views and resistant to empathy. When did being called a name ever make you want to change your mind?
Protests are all about creating change and that only happens when you create a viable and respectful alternative. Say what you want, point out what is wrong, but leave people’s feelings and spirits out of it. That way you are more likely to be listened to and you set a good example for a more ethical kind of politics.
On that note, sometimes we need to separate people from their behaviour. This is a technique teachers and parents will understand more than most:
If a child pushes another child over we would not instantly label them a naughty child. We may say that the behaviour was naughty / inappropriate / unkind.
This subtle difference in language ensures that we protect their character whilst still acknowledging that they cannot continue to act in this way and that their behaviour has consequences. It prevents the child from feeling accused, defensive or even playing up to the label. It can also be an opportunity to empathise: “Pushing them was inappropriate, can you explain why it happened?”
No one is a result of a single behaviour or opinion and no one deserves to be labelled. We can still challenge people, hold them accountable and disagree in a way that respects their humanity.
No result is the end of the world. We are not doomed. It is upsetting to hear people assume that all of society will slip into the abyss because of one decision. Furthermore, it is childish to wish ill on the opposition because of their outcome. I hear of many expecting Trump to fail or wishing he would in order to back up their view. The reality of this would mean that American people would suffer in some way. To wish suffering on anyone is unacceptable.
As I said earlier, I would not have voted for Trump. But I still hope he does a good job because people need a good leader to serve their needs. I did not vote for Brexit, but I still hope the UK gets a good trade deal and our economy can be supported.
If it turns out that there are difficulties or that voters are worse off then we can learn from it. Failure is just learning. Perhaps it will lead to a change in policy, a revoked decision, a new way of doing things. Sometimes we need to get things wrong to know what right looks like, and sometimes what we thought would be wrong turned out to do us good.
As long as we keep on responding with empathy, respect, open mindedness and constructive action then we can overcome whatever the next few years holds in store for us.
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