How Leaders React to Failure
Leadership only has value if people are involved. At its core is the relationship between the leader and the led.
Leadership magnifies the effects of normal relationships. If it matters in a personal relationship, it matters more in leadership.
People who are follow-able, therefore, will succeed if they keep others as their focus.
President Trump is at the highest level of leadership in world history, so I don’t presume to know better than he does, but here are some simple and people-focused leadership steps he could take to overcome the political fallout of last week’s Repeal and Replace failure.
1. Take full responsibility. People dislike politicians’ arrogance. Voters hate to be talked down to – they can’t stand condescension.
Taking responsibility is asymmetric because it gets at influencing voter psychology in a non-political way. Politicians don’t take responsibility because they don’t want to be held accountable, but that’s precisely what voters want.
Trump accepting responsibility does two things: it emboldens his political enemies and endears his supporters. Here’s the simplicity: his enemies will always be his enemies and his supporters will always be his supporters. Trump doesn’t need consensus – he needs 50% plus one.
Americans are historically a forgiving people. How many times can Anthony Weiner sext complete strangers are still stay politically relevant? Or Bill Clinton in the Oval?
Even though the failed bill is not Trump’s fault, accepting responsibility gives Americans the opportunity to forgive – and that is a powerful gift to give the People.
It is okay to lose. It is not okay to not fight.
2. Cast the vision. Scripture says, “where there is no vision, people perish.” People respond to clarity. All Trump has to say is, “we will first repeal, then we will replace Obamacare with free markets principles.” That clarifies the path, sets guidelines, and balances the playing field for Congress to debate legislation (as they should).
Trump won the Republican nomination and the presidency by laying out his vision for America. “Make America Great Again” is not just a slogan, it’s a mindset. Specifying political objectives within that mindset is something he must do to regain political momentum.
A leader’s first responsibility is to communicate where others will go if they follow.
3. Empower others. Conservatism has an identity crisis. Too many people say they’re conservative, but no one really knows what that means. Trump plays a vital role in the preservation of American freedom; he needs to affirm basic aspects of American life.
Conservatism is the idea that people are created equal and are given rights by God that cannot be taken away; government is limited to the protection of those rights because that’s how people live in peace and prosperity. Deal-making for deal-making’s sake does not necessarily acknowledge everyone’s God-given rights. More often than not, it lifts a political agenda over basic freedoms. Remember, it took the Founding Fathers three years to ratify the Bill of Rights – they didn’t cut deals on God-given rights.
Americans want Republicans to govern. Conservatives who defend the Constitution are the reason why Republicans have the House and Senate; they also formed the foundation of the Trump campaign.
Americans understand that their freedoms have been purposefully lost so that government may grow – they want leaders to reverse that trend.
4. Inspire. The stock market observed over one trillion dollars of wealth created after the election and before Trump’s inauguration because investors BELIEVED that things were going to improve.
Trump needs to continue to tell Americans that America is awesome. Just hammer that again and again and again and again.
Our heritage is rich and unlike anything in history. Much of the damage done to America was psychological – people need to know that they are free and that their freedom can be used to improve the world.
People respond to being treated with respect. The high stakes of politics is an easy distraction for leaders to forget that their value is within the context of other people. Lingering on defeat (like a failed piece of legislation) creates doubt which can re-prioritize re-election over service to others.
Americans won a major victory with Trump, not just because he is not Obama, but because he is a man who can do the leadership basics and have a positive effect on multiple generations.