By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here
Who are our leaders? Are they always the best ones for the job? History tells us no. But the bad leaders must have taken their position by force and the good leaders through a democratic process, right? No, even when the process is democratic, we can still vote for corrupt leadership (from the fall of Rome to WWII), and in cases like the American Revolution and the freeing of the slaves, sometimes good leadership came by way of force. Merit and virtue are important but what speaks to people is connection, emotions, shared beliefs, and representation. And those that actually speak to people, not just talk about themselves and their merits, are the ones to sway the people. And this has nothing to do with the virtue of the leader; it's in spite of it. It's about why you do it and your why doesn't always have to be just, it just has to resonate.
Many believe we live in a rational world, but we don't. We live in a subjective world where human decisions are subjective. We see the sun, and we see a god, we see a flower, and we think love. Animals don't think this way; they are purely in the objective. We humans have always been subjective and are always taken aback when we are reminded of this, and our responsive itself is subjective. To even believe we are rational in the first place is irrational, further proof of our subjective nature. No one is rational, if we were we would stand looking at a breakfast menu for the rest of our lives weighing the pros and cons of each decision.
The way we behave and think, the way we make decisions cannot be seen by the naked eye. We want it to me measurable in polls and graphs but it cannot. But it can be decoded.
Simon Sinek speaks to this in his TED Talk. He says:
This is the — I'm better than you vote for me — approach. For some that's nice, they want to know you're competent and you know what you're doing, so just leave it up to you. These are the facts and figures folks: You're smarter than me, you got degrees that I don't, so I will hire you as my accountant. They are used to living their life this way.
Challenging the status quo, I get that, I'm down with that because that's how I feel. You're not selling a result; you're selling me on me. A product or a result can never be like me, but you, you can be like me. I can build a relationship and trust with you; I can't do that with facts and figures. I can't do that with you telling me I'm supposed to vote for you. I want to know why.
This is who we need. This is what our country needs right now.
Some folks are shocked when people aren't moved by facts and think, hey this is new, we must live in a post-facts world. But we've never been moved by facts. But we never say that fact was moving, a feeling is moving. We are literally moved by how we feel. A fact might say a certain decision could hurt my best interest, but that's now how I feel. In fact, if I go the way you tell me, I feel powerless, like I'm doing it because you forced me. I also feel weak and embarrassed. So even if it does hurt me, I'd rather be hurt fiscally than be hurt personally and have my emotions battered.
You can be reluctant, or you can be passionate. People want to feel like they are part of something special, like they are changing the world, they love feeling like the underdogs. Who writes movies about the favorites? They want to feel like they are in the know of something everyone else is missing, something that the oddsmakers don't understand, something even the press completely miss. All eyes can be one place but the action someplace else, and the people in that someplace else love that. To grow without notice. And the favorite? It's hard to be passionate if you think you got it in the bag, it's hard to rally the troops and get everyone you know mobilized and excited. You can have the recipe for success, but if it's not about why and only about the result, no one will work that hard. They will dial it in.
What do you believe? What's your personal motto? What's your slogan? A great example is with Hillary Clinton, "I'm with her." Is it about a person or is it about a cause? "Hope" is a cause, "Change" is a cause. "Love Trumps Hate" puts the emphasis back onto a person, even if it's a person you do not like. It gives them attention without aligning you with a cause. Compare this to "Make America Great Again." If you talk about yourself, you will attract those who like you. You talk about what you believe, you will attract those who believe what you believe. Purpose driven or person driven. And this is a matter of perception. You can be arrogant or selfless, but in leadership what matters is how you are perceived. For better or worse.
The recipe for success isn't enough if you don't have a clear purpose. If it's about you, your legacy — Here's what kind of person I am — then people won't like you. But if it's about: What kind of person are you? Are you like me? Are you this kind of person? People will vote for you even if they don't like you. Is your purpose self-centered or other-centered? Even if you are a self-centered person, if your message is other-centered, you will be more effective than the other-centered person who has a self-centered message. You can call this manipulation or whatever else you want, but any leader is free to speak to the masses. No one is stopping a good leader from doing this, and in fact, a good leader should want to do this. If not, you will get this reaction: "We don't believe you. We don't need it. We don't like it. You're scaring us."
People will overlook a lack of defined plans if you tell them what you believe. They want authentic not scripted. Plans are important but more important are beliefs. Plans, we assume can come later. But we want to know what you believe now. In plain language. To know what you're saying is meant for us, not for your inner circle who understand your jargon. A vote for him or her should feel like a vote for me. The leader is the proxy. We take an insult to them personally because it feels like an insult to ourselves. Because it's not about them, it's about us (and if they forget, we will remind them) and the one who makes this clear is the one we support. We will work just enough for money, but we will work doggedly for beliefs. Like I said, for better or worse.
Hopefully, good potential leaders of the future will remember this message (though history has given countless ignored reminders): Do not enjoy the view from 10,000 feet above and keep your eyes on the street. Or you might just fall 10,000 feet and be eaten by the streets.
People want a cause, something to support. You can't have motivation without a cause; it's like having a sports fan without a sports team. A cause can be anything, from improving the rights of the downtrodden and equality for all people, but it can also be a religion, a nation, or a race. And if good leaders offer up nothing other than themselves as a cause, then any cause will do. It's not a utopia, and inspiring underdog stories aren't always for a good cause. The narrative says nothing about the quality of the protagonists. A powerful country isn't always wrong, and an underdog isn't always right.
We are moved by narratives, and the best person or cause may not rise to the top, but the best narrative will. No one thinks they are the bad guy; everyone thinks they are the heroes. And a small group going against any establishment thinks they are the plucky band of rebels fighting the Empire. Why else would terrorists risk their lives? They don't do it for a person or some plan; they do it for a cause. And an unjust group in power, what narrative do they use to stay in power? They have their members believe they are always being persecuted and the threat against them greater than it is. Five million will believe they are bullied back five thousand. No, even when the process is democratic, we can still vote for corrupt leadership.
Useful Companions (Improve Your Education and This Site by Buying a Book):
- Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action – Simon Sinek
- Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind – Yuval Noah Harari