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5 Important Reflections for Leaders From the Presidential Campaigns

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — July 28, 2016 4 min read
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A leader, whether in schools, in a community, politics, business, or life, cannot lead alone. Nor can a leader satisfy all of her or his followers all of the time. And in this world of 24-hour news, social media, and posting of comments and tweets, the critics have advanced immediacy for sharing responses widely and rapidly. This gives us a ringside seat to some important leadership lessons. While we have the summer tempo on our side, it is a good time to watch and learn.

Hillary Clinton
Recently, Hillary Clinton spoke of establishing an inclusive presidency reaching out to her predecessors and others for their thoughts and experiences. Inclusive leadership invites stakeholders around the table who are both supporters and objectors, all with the intention of what is best for the country (or the organization), coming to decisions after airing all opinions, barriers, benefits and downsides. Yet, we noted responses from some who watched and listened questioning her statement. They want a president who can make decisions on her or his own, who is decisive and direct, (of course only with the ideas that they agreed with!). It appears her answer of inclusivity id perceived as weakness or incompetence. Pay attention....some of those perceptions live in our communities as well.

Donald Trump
On the other hand, when Donald Trump speaks about his beliefs and what he wants to accomplish, he relies wholeheartedly on the term “I”. He uses that word even if what he wants to accomplish cannot be done without the support of Congress. Supporters resonate with his “I” statements because it represents the strong leader, the one who will decide and act. It appears his strong determination will make it happen. He must know that he needs others in order for him to get these things done. But he also knows what his followers want to hear.

Clear Positions and Changing Minds
Both candidates have made clear their positions on the most important things to our nation. Both have changed their minds over time on some of those positions. These are good things. Every day we live, we learn. And that learning informs how we think about things. So especially as educators, we understand that a politician changing their mind is not a bad thing.

Underlying our attraction to one candidate or another is our sense of their integrity. We care about their values as they have been demonstrated throughout their careers. We care about how they treat people and most certainly question their veracity. These are the translucent screens we squint to see through as we listen to decide whom we can support and follow.

View From The Outside
The note struck by Washington outsiders is an important lesson as well. As much as it is important to know how a system works, we know insider views can become skewed and insulated. So the view of an outsider is important. We also know that experience in the system is important. Knowing how to get it to work is a key factor and knowing how to change it is also. Sometimes we need, do need, a leader who can make changes swiftly and decisively. Those are the times of urgency. But there are also times when we need leaders who can change the way things are done by changing minds and hearts of others. We need leaders who can do both.

Leading School Communities
So in the snapshots we see on television of either candidate saying what we don’t want to hear, or convincing us that they alone can make the difference, we have an opportunity to reflect on our own leadership. But, let’s remember there is a vast difference between running for office and leading, between the interview and the role. “You campaign in poetry and govern in prose” (attributed to Mario Cuomo in The New Republic. 1985) is true. And as school leaders, your intentions, vision and encouragement of others may very well be poetry. But responses to the immediate or urgent may very be received as prose.

What does that mean? First and foremost, trust is essential. Trust in our school leaders is more easily developed than trust in our political leaders because of the intimate and daily interactions that take place. Or perhaps that makes it more difficult as our behaviors are seen closely and our decisions are profoundly felt. Trust for school leaders can be easily broken while building it is a slow and ongoing process.

In the summertime of learning, reflecting, and planning, here are 5 lessons we have learned from the campaign so far. They are suggested reflections that may inform your leadership as you step into a new school year.

  1. There is no such thing as a confidential email.
  2. There is no decision that won’t be easily overturned if the minds and heart of those implementing those decisions have not been turned.
  3. There is no leader who is not human and does not make a mistake. Without having developed trust within the organization, mistakes can turn supporters into opponents.
  4. There is no decision within a school organization that does not touch every member of the school community in some manner.
  5. There is no leader who is not called to be decisive and swift AND inclusive and collaborative. The dance between the two is necessary.

Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or Email.

Illustration by Nils Petersen courtesy of 123rf

The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.