It has always been my contention that one of the best ways to learn to be an effective leader is to closely study the approach and actions of those in leadership roles; both those who are effective and those who fail.
The most important aspect of leadership is the cultural environment created by the leader, because it ultimately defines the success or failure of the leader. The culture created by a leader is the conduit to communicate what the leader is about as a person, what they are for, and what they seek to achieve. Another value of the culture established by a leader is that it encourages and empowers followers to take actions they believe are aligned with the leader’s desires; even if the leader is not directly involved in the actions. As we will see, when a culture is not predicated on sound principles of integrity or the message is inconsistent, bad results can happen.
For the leader to be effective, the message of the culture must be consistent and unrelenting. Only chaos follows when a leader is not clear about their values or does not adhere to the principles they have espoused. Observing how leaders build their culture of leadership, how they react to different situations, the examples they set for followers and how they interact with them is a great way to learn what you should do or not do as a leader.
The culture of leadership created by the leader can be for good or evil, but only those built on sound, positive principles that are unflaggingly adhered to can bring about lasting leadership success. Those cultures that are not a true reflection of the leader’s core beliefs (good or bad) or are based on less than the highest levels of integrity may be successful in the short term, but ultimately they will cause the downfall of the leader.
My belief is that one of the best ways to see this dynamic in action is to be a close observer of the political process. Besides, when it comes to deciding who to support as a political leader, the clearest signal the candidate sends out as to what type of leader they will be, is not what they say or promise during the campaign, but the type of culture they create around themselves in order to get elected. Studying the leadership styles exhibited in an election campaign is a great way to learn about leadership, because it is very visible and it is conducted over a limited period of time.
Leadership Cultures of Nixon and Cruz
The leadership style and culture created by Richard Nixon is a great case in point. Nixon campaigned on the theme of “bring us together,” but his real strategy was to divide and conquer. Once Nixon was elected, he created a deceitful bunker-mentality culture based on an “us against them” theme. For Nixon, if you were not for him, you were an enemy to be vanquished. The Nixon culture sent the message to followers that any action – legal or illegal – against his enemies was acceptable. This approach to leadership was effective for a while – he did win reelection in a landslide – but in the end it led to his disgrace and downfall; as well as jail for many of his followers who had bought into the flawed culture created by Nixon.
By all available evidence, Ted Cruz is also one of those leaders we can learn from by recognizing what we should not do as a leader, if we want to be successful. Cruz seems to be building a campaign culture that Nixon would be comfortable with. While Cruz talks about honesty, integrity and the essence of purity in his conservative beliefs, the actions of his campaign workers signal that he is creating a different type of culture. The problem with the leadership culture Cruz is building is that it is based on deceit. He talks of honesty and integrity but allows (if not encourages) the opposite. The message sent by the Cruz culture is that lying, cheating, and dirty tricks are acceptable so long as they help him become the nominee.
The first evidence of this emerged at the Iowa primary when the Cruz campaign disseminated word that Ben Carson had dropped out of the race and his voters should turn to Cruz. This came along with an extensive direct mail piece about “voter violation,” attempting to confuse and intimidate voters. This was soon followed by a Photoshop altered photo attempting to show Mark Rubio cavorting with President Obama. Not long after that a video of Marko Rubio supposedly rejecting the Bible was released by the Cruz campaign. The only problem was that the video had been unscrupulously edited to make Rubio look bad.
When the complaints about this type of activity reached a crescendo, what did Cruz do? Just like Nixon, he disavowed knowledge of any of these activities and fired the senior campaign worker who released the video. (There had been no accountability for the first two actions.) This is another example of the type of leader Cruz might be if elected. Rather than stepping up and accepting responsibility for the type of campaign culture he had created and committing to make a change, he threw the guy who thought he was doing what Cruz had sanctioned via his cultural message under the bus. A leader who does not understand and control the message being conveyed by his culture is not really a leader; or will soon be a failed one.
But there is clear evidence that Cruz understands very well the Nixonian culture he is building. After all, the man he has hired to be his campaign manager – Jeff Roe – has been characterized by the New York Times as “an operative with a reputation for scorching earth, stretching truths and winning elections.” Mr. Roe is considered by many to be the current “master of dirty tricks.” And this is the man Cruz has hired to bring his brand of leadership culture to life.
And the Moral of the Story …
Remember that the effectiveness and longevity of your leadership will be determined less by the words you speak or the public face you wear. It is the culture of leadership you create that will identify your true leadership success, because it offers the real message of who you are and what you are about. That is why Cruz – as Nixon was – appears to be leadership challenged.
(It is only fair to note that the culture of leadership being created by Trump also shows signs of poor leadership. There is a difference between the two, and we will discuss the failing of Trump leadership next time; so long as he is still in the race.)