A Contrast in Leadership – from the Presidential Debate

I’m not sure about you, but for me this presidential election cycle has been far too long and drawn out. It seems that for over a year we have been surrounded by sound bites of gaffs, gotchas, pokes and promises. After a while you simply tune it out.Presidential-Debate1

But last night I decided to tune in to the first of three presidential debates. I thought finally we will see the candidates, side-by-side, as they share their visions of the future and how they will lead us there. As a student of good leadership, I thought this might just be an opportunity to see a clear difference in the two men.

And I was not disappointed.

I’m not writing this to lobby for one side or the other. But there was a point in the debate last night where two fundamental approaches to leadership became very obvious and clear. I noticed something that I believe all who lead a team of people in business can learn from.

About halfway through the debate, one of the candidates expressed frustration that while their opponent had shared many ideas and promises of what they would do, they failed to give any substantial detail – no nuts and bolts of their plan. This is not a new criticism. We’ve heard this from both sides during this campaign. But last night the response was different – and it highlighted a critical element of strong leadership.

The response was not to attack or justify or defend, but instead to explain why there were no specific details. The responding candidate shared that his role as the leader was to set the expectations, define the principles that he was going to govern by, and then enlist the people around him, those from both sides, to come together and hammer out the details of a solution that would uphold those principles and expectations. And, if necessary, work WITH them to find a solution. But no matter what, hold them ACCOUNTABLE to get the job done.

He went on to share that when a leader comes at a problem or issue with a fixed, pre-determined solution – a step-by-step how it will be done – those around him will simply dig in their heels on their position, push back, or worse yet, not participate and not engage in finding a good solution.

I believe that these may just be the truest words I have heard spoken lately by any political candidate!

Consider where you are right now – in your current role. If you see something that needs to be changed or fixed, is it better for you to craft a complete solution and hand it to your team or is it better for you to share your expectations, your core principles, your “non-negotiables” as I call them, with your team and ask for them to help you find a solution or improvement?

Which approach will get you a better result? Which approach will get you more buy in? Which approach would have members of your team all pulling in the same direction as opposed to pulling against one another?

It is clear to me – and I suspect it is to you as well. The leaders role is to LEAD, not to define the specific fix or solution. The leaders role is to INSPIRE and ENGAGE not to tell and sell. The leaders role is to DEFINE FUTURE SUCCESS and allow others to create the systems, processes and solutions that allow success to happen.

Is that how you are leading? Are you clearly sharing your expectations, core principles and non-negotiables and then engaging your talented people to help you create the step-by-step improvements that will get you to that place called success?

If not, now is the time! If you did not watch the debate, don’t worry. There will be more. But next time, pay close attention to each candidate’s leadership style and ask yourself “Is this the way my team would want me to lead them”? Rather than hear blah, blah, blah as we normally do, you’ll either hear something that sounds a lot like yourself or something that sounds very different.

Bottom line, we all get to chose what kind of leader we will become – and what kind of leader we will follow!

Ride Hard!