What our leaders are getting wrong {And how to avoid those same mistakes}

I just sat down to write this post. At this very moment, people are getting in their cars to protest at state capitals all over the U.S. And I just might join them.

They're protesting the continued, extended and expanded orders and edicts their governors are issuing to control the spread of COVID. I'm not here to argue the legality of these orders. I'm not going to talk about whether they have best intentions and safety at heart or whether these are political moves.

I'm here to talk about why people are angry, what they could have done differently and what we can do to prevent, or at least minimize the chances of open revolt in our own organizations. Especially when we have to make tough decisions that some people might not like.

People are divided today along two clear lines.

Some think that political leaders––local, state and national are drunk on power and are now radically overstepping their authority and threatening people's freedom.

The other group believes the first group should stand down, stay home, follow orders and do anything and everything we're told in the cause of safety.

For the sake of this discussion––doesn't matter which group you fall into. And it's very likely your emotions have been elevated on this issue sometime over the past few days too. And you probably have one or two political leaders on your Facebook rage list.

Why are we so angry?

What did our leaders do wrong?

And what could we do differently?


The best way to piss people off is to keep them in the dark.

If you have information––and you say you have information, but that it's "coming soon" or "we'll let you know," well, that's a recipe for disaster.

Worse are leaders who are just saying, "We're working on it and we'll tell you when we know more."

No. If you know something––share it. If you're not where you need to be, give status reports and give genuine reasons for delays and setbacks.

People are far more understanding when you're forthcoming. We don't trust leaders who are obviously holding back. And "we're working on it" goes nowhere without trust.


If you're not absolutely sure––say so.

Research shows that we're more likely to trust leaders who show a little vulnerability and uncertainty. Research also shows that these also tend to be the best and highest performing leaders.

What happens when you come out beating your chest to sell some promising theory as absolute truth––and it blows up on you two days later? That's been happening a lot during the pandemic. Hasn't it?

Wouldn't be better to say, "We're seeing some promising results, but we've got to take our time to make sure."?

And if we do absolutely believe in something that blows up––own it! The worst response to people's anger at a "truth" falling apart is denial or blame. Just say you thought it was true based on the best information you had, you were wrong, you'll do your best to be more careful in the future.


"Do as I say, not as I do."

Doesn't work on 5 year old kids. Doesn't work on adults either.

You've got to walk the walk. Too many of our leaders are getting caught with their pants down on this one. Or on the golf course anyway.

One mayor got caught getting her hair done by her favorite stylist––after ranting about why she's keeping salons shut down.

One of our former presidents got caught playing golf––and two days later his wife broadcast a PSA about how important it is we stay home except for only the most essential errands––mainly food and medical treatment.

Our current vice-president was on video without a mask––in a hospital––after talking about how important it is to wear a mask in public places.

A famous broadcaster was caught emerging from his "basement" for the "first time" since contracting COVID, only to find that we'd all seen him on a video arguing with a cyclist days earlier––miles from his home.

Once in a while we've got to slip into more of an authoritarian role. We may have to issue orders or directives. And people will usually go along with us––if we've earned their respect, trust and loyalty.

Well, there's nothing that destroys respect and trust than demanding what you're not willing to do yourself.

Or to put it in a more positive light…

People follow examples much more enthusiastically than orders.


People don't like being treated like children.

Children don't even like it!

Too many leaders are "talking down" to us. They're denigrating anyone who disagrees with them. They're jumping on Twitter and Facebook posting rants and calling people out.

Now I don't really care if they do that to one another––though if I had them in one of my workshops I'd make it clear that's not good leadership. But if they want to bash one another, so be it.

It's quite another thing when political leaders bash the very people they're put in office to serve. And this means all citizens, whether they voted for you or not.

When you say people are "ignorant," "selfish" or "childish" because they disagree with you, you're showing your own insecurity.

As leaders we've got to extend the same trust we want from others. We've got to give the benefit of doubt and assume that people have a reason for their opinions and feelings. We might not agree, but if we want people to respect us, we best start by showing them our respect.


Don't be an "undercover boss"…

You need to know what your people are dealing with. At all levels. And if you want their trust and respect, best not to flaunt your position, status or wealth when you're trying to connect with the people on the front lines.

In a word, don't be obtuse.

When a national leader is calling on us to endure hardship for the common good, it's just not good form to do so while eating gourmet ice cream in front of a refrigerator that costs as much as most people's cars. And it's not good form to follow that up by going on national television and openly declaring that you "have no idea" why people are angry.

"MBWA," or "management by walking around" is nothing new. The term was coined in the 1960s, and the best leaders have been doing it forever.

Granted, it's hard to know everyone personally in a big organization. But you better be damn sure you get to know a few people––well-–at every level. You've got to discipline yourself to stay in touch with the people you serve––to know and understand their needs, interests, ambitions, challenges and concerns.

One of our most important jobs as leaders is to get everyone pulling in the same direction––

"To transform ME in to WE."

You don't do that when you're nothing but a "them."

It's our job to bring out the best in others. That's what leaders do. That's what makes a team, an organization––a nation successful. And our success as leaders is measured and defined by that one factor––the success of the people we serve.

The research on this is bombproof:

"People perform at their best when––and only when––they know their leaders care."

Period. If you don't care––don't bother.

To be fair, our elected leaders are under a tremendous amount of pressure right now…

I know––who isn't. Right?

We do need to grant some latitude, some patience and understanding. Leaders are people too. Mistakes will be made. Information is changing by the hour.

All we're asking is that our leaders be honest…

Share what they know…

Extend the same trust they expect from us…

And most of all, show us some respect. In our society we elect leaders to govern––not rule.

Mistakes have been made. Some leaders have started to change their manner. I hope more will going forward. Time will tell.

Meanwhile, we can learn from their mistakes as well as their successes to help us grow and improve as leaders. And that's what the best leaders do…

Learn, grow and improve. Always.


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