In Maryland, it is easy to get an education by reading the bumper stickers on your fellow travelers’ cars. Recently I was struck by the leadership lessons offered by President Obama’s campaign messages pasted on the back of every third car I saw. They said:
Politics and policy aside, any leader can and should learn from the President’s three core messages, which connected with the American people so powerfully. (If you doubt this, you might want to checkout who is sitting in the Oval Office.)
Awhile back, my brother grumbled to me that his kids supported Obama. When pressed, they explained that they supported him because Obama stood for Change. “Change to what?” he asked, but they really didn’t seem to know. Still they supported Obama, which baffled my brother completely. In reality, it didn’t matter because the candidate’s message connected so well with people. But why?
Look around. America is the land of the discontent. How many people do you know who are happy with their jobs, their businesses, their employers, or their lives? Our constant state of discontent drives progress as well as cynicism. Wise leaders know that it is their role to fuel and channel others’ desire to make things better – whatever those “things” may be.
Napoleon Bonaparte once said that leaders are “dealers in hope.” President Obama knows the power of hope, so he didn’t need to say much more. His bumper stickers just said Hope. Like a psychoanalyst, he let the people project into his message what they desired. In fact, the concept of hope was so attached to Barak Obama that some observed that he seemed to be developing a savior image that rightfully belongs only to Jesus Christ.
Since you are not likely to be running for president, you may be asking, “How can I offer hope?” Life is tough; people wear down. Dreams fade and passion gives way to the mundane. People toil away at work because they “have to.” But leaders offer hope – two kinds of hope, in fact. Hope in themselves and hope in an important mission. Through action and words they say:
- We can do this. (I am pretty sure President Obama used these exact words!)
- You, personally, are needed.
Well, this certainly backfired on the President’s opponents. What they intended as a slur, Barak Obama adopted as a banner slogan. His message – I care about you. It doesn’t matter whether you believe he cares, the lesson here is quite clear. People place their trust and power in the hands of people who they believe care about them. After all, who, in their right mind, is going to give away their power to someone who doesn’t care about them?!
I often encounter managers who try to maintain a distance from team members in order to stay “objective.” It’s funny how they tend to be the same people who struggle with engaging their team members and getting them to go the extra mile. Get over it!, I say! You’re not objective anyway – and you don’t want to be. This idea of sterile professionalism is hooey! Leaders and followers must bond, and bonding does not occur in a sterile “professional environment.” Instead, it happens in a messy relational one.
You don’t have to be Barak Obama, or even agree with him, to tap the power of Change, Hope and Care.
Know what you are about – your talents and passions – so you are ready to fill your role in making change happen.
- Listen to what your team complains about. Their complaints are banner ads for what they care about and want to improve. If that doesn’t work, ask questions like:
- What would make your job better?
- What would make us better?
Any change you pursue must be something the team “believes in” – and people mostly believe in their own values and goals.
- Truly see your people, by this I mean know who they are and what they are capable of becoming. Then, affirm them personally and feed their talents.
- Identify your organization’s improvement goals.
- Forge, communicate, and execute a plan for grafting team members’ personal desires with organizational goals.
Until recently, I thought the only educational opportunity available on the highway came from audiobooks. Now, I realize that I can learn a lot about by “listening” to the messages that are screaming at me from the bumpers. Keep your eyes open and let me know what you are learning on the roads!