Post-Election 2016 & Your Leadership

fog-ahead-on-roadPOST-ELECTION 2016 & YOUR LEADERSHIP

Regardless of how the US presidential election turns out, we are in for a tumultuous stretch of time moving into 2017-2018. To most of us, it may feel rather like the biker in the photo.

Recently, I conducted a special seminar on the 2016 election and an earlier presidential contest that I think offers some clarifying points for the road ahead. I believe the past is a good place to find insights into a hazy future, especially for a leader. And remember, I define a leader as a person with one or more followers (as the dictionary uses that term, not social media!).

The election I chose for helping to illuminate 2016 was the presidential election of 1912. That election was deeply divisive, featured big personalities, and revolved around issues that look a lot like those of today. It’s not exact, of course, but the fit between 1912 and 2016 is striking.

I don’t want to take your time to explain how the 1912 and 2016 elections connect to each other as fixed events in time. It’s a fascinating story, to be sure. Instead, I’d rather invite you to consider how they relate to one another going forward into the next few years.

In my view, three takeaways are important from 1912 going forward into 2017-2018 for your leadership.

First, the candidates have made promises, pledges, and plans in the campaign that have a life of their own. The winning candidate will act swiftly on at least some of these items, including those of major scale and substance. This will act like water on a dry surface, spreading out quickly until its momentum stops. The post-1912 experience shows that important new initiatives will be part of the election’s outcomes—the various parts of Woodrow Wilson’s Progressive agenda. For post-2016, these new initiatives will reach to your leadership and your followers. You will be compelled to react.

Second, and this relates to the first takeaway, a powerful moment will arrive when two arcs of events and trends intersect. In the post-1912 experience, that intersecting pair of arcs was in 1917, the point at which the US entered the World War after more than two years of global warfare. This intersection in spring 1917 of 1) American entry into a war of Great Powers (internationally) and 2) American Progressivism (domestically) led to highly unstable and unmanageable results. As was true then, this intersecting pair of arcs has the potential for an extraordinary impact on the American nation. By definition, that means the effects will reverberate through your leadership. When you look at post-2016, it doesn’t take long to see the rising presence of Great Powers alongside the persistent presence of radical Islamic terrorism as a potential replication of intersecting arcs.

Third and finally, because of who they are and how they’ve come to this point in their lives, the winning presidential candidate will exert an unusually large degree of influence through his or her personality and, more importantly, through the adjoining personality of their most loyal and motivated of followers. I call this subset of followers a “Core-Group”. Whether it’s Trump or Clinton, their personality combined with the collective personality of their Core-Group will be a dominating force in American life on a month-to-month and quarter-to-quarter basis. The combined force of individual and group personality will co-mingle with the first and second takeaways described above. As a leader, you may belong to one or the other Core-Group. However, you may not. Whichever the case, you will find that a degree of your followers’ responses to post-2016 events will reflect their attitude toward these blended personalities. Thus, it will affect you, too.

Three takeaways for post-2016 and your leadership: an extensive new range of policies with an impact down to the neighborhood and workplace levels; a moment at which two large trendlines bend and intersect to create a crossroads of acute crisis; and a constant drumbeat and echo from the personalities of president and his or her band of most devoted followers.

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