5 Leadership Lessons from the 2016 Election

What is the defining characteristic of the 2016 Election?

Everyone seems to hate it.


Many people feel alienated or angry, many more are just disengaged.


What went wrong?

It’s easy to see the telltale signs if you know where to look.


We don’t even need to discuss the specifics of any particular party or campaign.

Fill in the blanks as you like.




1. Rigid hierarchy

The more rigid a social hierarchy tries to be, the more people at the top feel pressure to be the best at everything, to know everything, to have all the answers.

Why else should they be given such power?

For whatever reason, this seems to be a common mindset.


2. Mistakes, incorrect information, bad decision making

The pressure to know it all and be the best at everything can have very negative results.

Leaders in a more rigid hierarchy don’t consult knowledgeable people to make sure they have the facts straight, nor can knowledgeable people effectively correct their mistakes.

Leaders also don’t step aside when someone more knowledgeable or skilled could perform a given task better.


3. Resource inequality

Rigid hierarchies tend to have large gaps in resources (such as money).

This has two important effects.

  • Leaders that are overpaid are extremely likely to overestimate their knowledge and abilities relative to others. (This further perpetuates the problems described above.)
  • It leads people to resent leaders. They become less willing to speak up or help out when they could have.


4. Impossible standards

No one can know it all, or be the best at everything.

When leaders are expected to know it all and be the best at everything (and paid as though they are) disaster is usually right around the corner.

This situation essentially sets leaders up for failure.


…and yet people still make a big fuss every time they make a mistake and are “exposed” as merely human.


5. Alienation and disengagement

This is the eventual result of a hierarchy that is too rigid.

Leaders try to be more than they really can be, get paid like it’s true, and maybe even come to believe it.

Mistakes, incorrect information, and bad decision making go on and on.

People that could have made a difference don’t feel included, and eventually don’t even want to be.



The real lesson is that leadership isn’t the whole story.

Followership is just as important.

Following a leader is a choice to be made, and people sometimes simply choose not to.




Image credits: Jim Bauer, Ozzy Delaney

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