Enquiring minds want to know: How could this happen?
The presidential election of 2016 will be parsed and dissected for decades. The objective will be to determine how a political novice with what could best be described as a volatile temperament, espousing ideas that even in the best light seem inimical to the fundamental social concepts of America; combined with a personality more akin to a bully, can triumph over a candidate with a lifetime of experience in government; one with a temperament of steadiness, the firm support of the moneyed elite and mainstream media and the unified backing of her Party’s establishment power. (Even though the DNC had to “fix” her nomination. Just ask Bernie Sanders.)
Right now all we really know – and all that counts – is that there are at least 290 reasons why Trump won. (The votes he won in the Electoral College.) For starters, the “experts” are confounded as to why millions of voters (including me) who voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, voted for Trump. Analysts are trying to understand why Hillary received millions of fewer Democratic votes than Obama did in 2012. From a political standpoint, Salena Zita, perceptively wrote in The Atlantic magazine (prior to the election): “The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.”
The experts will go on ad nauseam offering the technical reasons and spreading the blame for Hillary’s loss, but they will miss the most fundamental reason for the defeat. Clinton lost because she did not understand and violated one of the most basic tenets of leadership. It is a lesson that anyone who seeks a position of leadership can benefit by learning. What Hillary failed to grasp was that: It is the responsibility of the leader to give followers a reason to follow.
No matter how experienced or well-intended a person who seeks the mantel of leadership may be, they will fail as a leader if they fail to give followers a valid reason to follow them. People do not follow a leader because it is expected or required, but because they are able to internalize a reason to follow; usually one that will, in the long run, benefit them as much as the leader. Sure, the authority of leadership can be mandated by the power of position, but that is not leading, that is herding. Managers can tell others what to do; whereas true leadership inspires others to do what needs to be done.
Hillary’s campaign was a great example of what happens when the leader fails to offer followers a reason to follow. Conversely, the entire focus of Trump’s campaign was to give voters a simple, easy to understand reason to follow him. Clinton’s message was: “Stronger Together.” Trump’s message was: “Make America Great Again.” Now seriously, who is going to even understand, let alone be motivated to run through a brick wall by the idea of “stronger together”?
Please don’t read my comments about Trump as condoning his often dark philosophy, divisive tactics and many of his offensive comments. The point I am attempting to make is that Trump – for good or bad – did what it takes to be a recognized leader; he gave people a reason to follow. The world has seen many bad people who were strong leaders and many good people who were weak leaders.
During the course of the campaign Clinton’s message continually shifted from one approach to another, without ever focusing on a consistent, clearly delineated reason to vote for her. In the end, her message was almost exclusively targeted at “why Trump was bad,” and very little if any reason why people should make her their leader. Leadership based on a negative is always trumped by a positive. From the very first to the very last day, Trump had a singular message – Make America Great Again. Certainly one can take issue with how Trump may define what has to be done to make America great, but no one can argue that his message was not clear, consistent and concise and that it gave millions of voters a reason to follow him. It may well have been for the wrong reason, but at least it was a reason; and that’s what leadership is about. Hillary simply failed to put forth an effective message that would inspire people to follow her. And that is what causes leadership to fail and elections to be lost.
Now that Trump has been elected, it is ironic that thousands of – mostly young – people are out on the streets of American cities passionately protesting the results of the election. Where was this passion for Hillary during the election campaign? If Clinton had aroused even a modicum of this type of passion during the campaign, she would have easily won. Hillary harped on the reasons to “fear” Trump, but she failed to offer people a reason to be passionate about following her lead.
Learning the Lesson of Leadership
Hillary is no longer making history, so she is history. But her loss can be a win for anyone who seeks to make their own brand of history by becoming an effective leader. When someone seeks a leadership role – at any level – they first need to identify what talent, skills and ideas they have to offer that will give others a reason to follow them. They then have to effectively communicate that reason, in a clear, concise and consistent way to those they want to lead and a why those who do follow will benefit from that leadership.
Both Trump and Clinton have given us lessons in leadership that anyone who wants to be a leader can learn. Clinton has shown that no matter how experienced or deserving of leadership a person may be, if the nascent leader is unable to explain why others should follow them, they will never have the opportunity to lead. Trump has shown that when the would-be leader has the power to motivate others to follow, even the improbable becomes possible.