What The Election Taught Us About Leadership: We Want Leaders Who Care

We’ve learned a lot of lessons this year. As I’ve been discussing in The Big Reset (detailed research here and here), this year is not just a year of Pandemic, it’s a year for global culture change. And the US election points this out more clearly than ever.

Consider where we’ve been since the 2008 crisis. Over the last twelve years we’ve been through the digital transformation of every business, a new model for work, an increasing level of income inequality, and a global recognition of the problem of climate change. And this year, fueled by the Pandemic, we’ve been through a health care crisis and a global crisis in racial justice, equity, and understanding.

I don’t see this as a “black swan crisis” – I see it as an accelerated global transformation.

Yes, there have been a lot of challenges: 20 million Americans lost their jobs, income inequality has worsened, and trust in our institutions is at an all-time low. But under all the arguments and divisiveness we’ve seen, there’s a global longing to “make life better.” And this is the new role of leadership.

Today Leadership Takes On A Special Role: Empathy

There are thousands of books on leadership, and they each cite role models from different times. Well today, as we understand the global issues of health, economic growth, and accelerating digital disruption, the biggest need of all is empathy. And this is why I wrote an article called CEO as Chief Empathy Officer: it’s been proven again and again.

In business and in politics it always comes down to results that matter. If the revenues go up, profits improve, or the stock market soars – then you’re a successful leader. And in most periods of time this formula works well.

What we’ve learned this year, is that it’s not just about results: it’s also about how you achieve the results. Because all good numbers can be fleeting: it’s the long term health of our businesses, societies, and families that matter.

As I described in my article this year about PowerSkills, we now need leaders with a whole new set of skills: the ability to listen, be patient, empathize, and forgive.

I’ve tested these ideas with hundreds of companies, and they’re all getting the idea. The traditional leadership concepts of innovation, growth, and collaboration are no longer the core: rather they are the outcomes of treating people well. When leaders behave with respect and forgiveness, creativity, teamwork, and growth will flourish. We’re getting back to the basics: treat people well and they will do amazing things for you.

How The Election Reinforces This Story

Why did Biden beat Trump? I think it all comes down to his leadership. By one of the largest mandates in the history of US presidential elections, 75 million Americans believe Biden really cares. While I refuse to get dragged into a conversation about Trump’s behavior, it’s very clear that his levels of care and empathy were lacking. And no matter how much he tried to demonize others, we all just want our lives to be better.

Note that the words “humility” and “kindness” also appear on this chart. Today people want their leaders who are real, human, and respectful. Of course, we know leaders have to make tough decisions, but in the end, we entrust them with our lives (or careers) so we want them to be human too.

I’ve been on hundreds of calls with HR and senior business leaders all year, and the biggest theme that comes up is “we need to take care of our people this year.” Why? Because without them, we won’t have a business at all.

Trust Is Now In High Demand

Why has empathy become so important? Because we suffer from a tremendous deficit in trust. According to the latest Edelman research, Trust has become one of the top drivers of corporate value. People do not trust the Federal government to fix the Pandemic, income inequality, global warming, and racial justice. So they’re asking their employers to be the trusted institution of their lives. I believe this issue is one of the reasons Biden won the election. Just look at the Edelman data: it shows how important Trust has become.

As leaders, we need to remember that the most vested stakeholders we have are our employees. Yes, we have investors, shareholders, and external stakeholders to please. But it’s employees who vote with their lives and careers every day. So when we focus on them, our leadership gains power.

One more point: caring about people means giving people hope. Trump’s agenda was all about anger: Biden’s agenda is about hope. It was Napoleon who stated “A leader is a dealer in hope.” When every individual feels hope for their future and their family, the organization and the country will thrive.

This has been a long year for all of us, but it is perhaps the best learning experience of our lives. Let’s use this as an opportunity to reflect: 2021 will be here before we know it.