Like most Americans, I am grateful that the Presidential election is behind us. Depending on your party affiliation, some of us are stunned and heartbroken and some are excited and probably stunned too. In survey after survey, it is clear that the country saw this as the most divisive, bitter, and negative election cycle ever. For me, it has been sad to see the hatred, fear-mongering, and polarization that overtook this election and it led to my questioning of the morals and values of others. Reading a recent article about the Facebook fights that have come between friends over presidential politics, I see that I am far from alone. The election has been decided and hopefully the country (and our fractured friendships) can begin to find some common ground and heal.

There are certainly plenty of things to criticize and condemn about the presidential campaigns of the two major party candidates, but my thoughts now turn to what if anything can we learn from this. Looking at this election in the rearview mirror, what was revealed for me was what matters.

  • Words matter – Whether “bad hombres” or “basket of deplorables,” words cut in this election. I know that we say actions speak louder than words, but this election shined a light on the power of words. What you call people, how you describe them, what you say you will do, matter – a lot. As a leader, you have a responsibility to choose your words carefully.
  • Trust matters – Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both were viewed unfavorably and seen as untrustworthy. What Americans want are elected officials who say what they mean and do what they say. In The Speed of Trust, Covey noted that trust equals character plus competence. When one of those is missing or lacking, then trust erodes. The same holds true for leadership. Trust is essential. Trust has to be earned. Your character as a leader and the competence you exhibit both send messages about your trustworthiness.
  • All voices matter – One thing that this election has brought to life is the various voices within the electorate that want to be heard. Whether the Latino population or blue-collar workers or other groups, Americans have issues that are deeply personal and important to them. Many feel that their voices are not getting through to the folks in Washington. What does get through to Washington are votes. During the campaign, we had the opportunity to hear how the candidates intend to address the issues that are important to us. On Election Day, we had the opportunity to send our own message through our vote. Leaders also need to ensure that they are hearing all of the voices in their organizations. Be it town halls, suggestion boxes (do those still exist?), employee surveys, or skip-level meetings, leaders must create opportunities to have all the voices in the room so that sound decisions can be made and broad input can be gathered.

This campaign was brutal in many ways. For me, it was stressful and the outcome hugely disappointing, but it is also empowering because this election has confirmed what is most important to me and what kind of country I want to live in. It also served to remind me what leadership is all about. Now it’s time for us to learn from it and move forward.

What did you learn about leadership in this election?
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