Leaders inspire us as much as they lead us. Really great leaders inspire us by helping us to focus more on our aspirations and less upon our anxieties.
As I look around today and try to make some observations in the midst of an intense political season, one thing is clear. Most candidates (from both parties) are trying to tap into our anxieties much more than they are our trying to tap into our aspirations.
If they are correct, and we are an angry electorate, then we are the root of their methodology and approach. They are simply giving us what we want. We are full of anxiety and that anxiety has lead to frustration, which has led to anger. And they, in turn, are tapping into that deep seeded emotion.
If they are incorrect, and we are an electorate that still aspires to greatness, then they are completely misjudging the tenor and tone of the nation. They are pandering to a minority of voters and they will ultimately be rejected at the ballot box.
What is the leadership lesson in the midst of this political season?
The leadership lesson is this. Leaders must realize that one of the roles of a truly great leader is to inspire their followers. We are to inspire them to strive to reach and achieve their greatest and most noble aspirations. On the contrary, capitalizing on our anxiety, frustration, and anger does not require leadership greatness. It is not even really leadership at al. When we sink to a lowest common denominator or primal emotion in order to elicit a response from our followers that help us achieve our desired results, we are making “instinctive” decisions that do not seek to elevate the followers or the organization that they represent.
The political ramifications are obvious. But what about the corporate world? What about the non-profit or ministry world? Are there lessons to be learned for these worlds as well? I believe that there are.
Corporate leaders face uncertain times. We are seeing economic conditions that like of which we have not seen for nearly 30 years. Many of these corporate leaders are of an age where this is unprecedented in their lives. The key for them is to help keep their followers and their organizations positive as they weather these economic storms.
Robert Noyce, co-founder of Intel, once said that optimism is “an essential ingredient of innovation. Innovation struggles in an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty. If you are a business leader, help your team remain positive, optimistic, and focused on their aspirations of greatness and success. The problem is that these skills are not taught in colleges and business graduate schools.
I recently had a conversation with a professor in the Business department at a leading liberal arts university. He was lamenting the many things that business students are not taught. Their focus is all too often on the “mathematical” aspects of business. In other words, we would agree that it is a good discipline to solve problems like the velocity of a car at a certain moment in time. However, I would say that it is also crucial to figure out what skills it takes to “drive” the car. That analogy would help us to figure out what “drives” people to give us the very best that they have to offer.
Non-profit and ministry leaders face fundamental challenges of leadership that I would submit to you are not too dissimilar. Is it enough to scare our followers with descriptions of the heat and depth of hell? Fear will only motivate you to escape the immediate threat to their safety. Don’t we need to inspire them to live lives worthy of their calling? There is much more that I could write on the spiritual implications of this. But this is not the forum for that.
Non-profit leaders must find the way to inspire and motivate their followers in the times between the natural disasters and compassionate crises that so many count on to recruit or motivate their followers. The challenge is to find a way to reach them with a message of hope that endures and not of despair that is only temporal.
How are you feeling today?
Do feel full of aspirations? Or are you full of anxiety about tomorrow? How is your leader? What sense do you get from them? Are they tapped into your feelings? Or are they elevating you to achieve those things to which you aspire?