I’m a Single-Issue Voter on Leadership. There’s Only One Choice in This Election.
We’ve been through countless issues and why each candidate is the best to handle each specific one. We’ve told by the infamous “single-issue voters” that we have a moral imperative to vote for Donald Trump based on his stance on abortion, or to vote for Joe Biden based on his plan for climate change.
I have to admit that I too am one of those single-issue voters. But not for one of the issues that gets loads of media attention or is discussed at a presidential debate; which seems strange when we’re talking about choosing the person commonly referred to as “the leader of the free world.” I’m a single-issue voter on leadership.
I commonly hear Republican friends say that they don’t like President Trump’s brash personality or personal characteristics, however they continue to ardently support him for his conservative policies. “Policies are more important than personality,” they say. I’ve also heard people say that “you can’t have a business degree and vote for Biden.” I reject both notions wholeheartedly. I certainly appreciate the importance of policy issues and the difference they make in the lives of Americans. However, any student of business understands that the success of the entire organization, the organization’s existence, strongly depends on the leadership of the CEO and executive team.
Just as important as a candidate’s stance on immigration or taxes is their leadership qualities and the culture and tone they set for the country they lead. This is why a company with the world’s most innovative products can fall under poor leadership (see Apple in the 1990s) while a company with the most basic product can become a world class organization (see Southwest Airlines) — the product doesn’t determine success, the leadership and culture of the company does.
While certain policy decisions matter — what companies to acquire, what markets to enter, and what products to launch, ideally a CEO, or a President, has little ability to drive those single-handedly. The CEO empowers the people in the organization to make decisions, innovate in areas they are passionate about and then make the policy decisions based on the advice and consent of the Board (Congress) and the Stakeholders (the American people).
Despite an illusion that the President or Fortune CEOs make every decision and call every shot, the truth is the best leaders don’t (and often don’t have the power to). What the leader’s role is, however, is to serve as a figurehead, lead by example, empower followers, and inspire a collective vision. They set the tone for the organization, live by values, and are driven by seeing their people succeed. And the results follow, they always do. Companies have done best when that leadership occurs, and our nation’s proudest moments were under presidents who understood the importance of leadership. While policy issues have importance, the collective success of the country primarily depends on who the next leader is, not the next policymaker.
A single political party does not have a monopoly on leadership. To be clear, there are very good and very bad leaders in both of America’s major parties. However, in this particular election, the difference could not be starker nor the decision so clear.
If we want to speak in the moral imperatives that single issue voters like me love to use: from a leadership standpoint, Joe Biden must win this election.
Joe Biden’s style, personality, and record as Vice President and as a Senator from Delaware show that he has a clear understanding of successful leadership, the kind that could lead a country off a path of decline. His humility, yet his will to serve the country — which has been apparent in his decision to run at age 77 — is compatible with the concept of “Level 5 Leadership” which is all but a requirement for lasting success and stands in sharp contrast to the leadership style of President Trump, which fits squarely into those behaviors that have led to great organizations’ demise.
To further highlight the difference in leadership between the two candidates, I went to the famous Gallup study on “Strengths Based Leadership,” a 2008 study that is now used by hundreds of major companies and organizations around the world and considered a gold standard for leadership practice.
In a key part of the portion of the study, employees of major companies were asked which qualities the best leader they ever had possessed. There were no prompts or choices, simply a free response. Nonetheless, the study identified four primary qualities that followers seek from their leaders. They are Trust, Compassion, Stability, and Hope. Given these crucial leadership qualities, the differences between Trump and Biden are apparent. Below is each trait broken down:
Trust. Trust is the foundation of successful organizations and of successful countries. For the sake of definition, the kind of trust talked about in this context isn’t trusting a leader keeping a secret. Rather, trust is the assurance that a person’s intentions are good and there isn’t a need to hide the truth from such person. The Gallup study found that the chance of being an engaged contributor when leaders are not trusted in only 1 in 12. Compare that to 1 in 2 when trust is present. When trust does not exist between a leader and their constituents, we see the kind of anti-authority attitudes that are common in America today, personified by the lack of compliance on things like wearing masks, or even the movement to defund the police. Lack of trust has characterized the Trump presidency. President Trump has shown a lack of trust toward the American people — through his failure to warn them about the Coronavirus to avert a panic, his efforts to curtail and suppress voting, and through the lies and deception that has characterized his White House since Day One. Studies have shown that even if a leader does not make the decision you would make (i.e. on a policy), as long as there is trust present — an understanding that intentions are good and diverging opinions are heard — the entire group’s well-being increases. It has been the lack of trust between the public and their leader that has been a major catalyst of the division and chaos we now see — and something Vice President Biden embodies and has vowed to restore.
Compassion. It is no secret that Joe Biden embodies the qualities of empathy and compassion. In part due to personal struggle and tragedy, countless are the stories from the campaign trail in which Biden has stopped to get to know a voter personally who has struggled with cancer or a stutter, two things Biden has direct experience with. YouTube videos demonstrating the Vice President’s compassion are plentiful. Watch him comfort Meghan McCain after her father’s cancer diagnosis or talk with Brayden Harrington, a young man from New Hampshire who struggles with a stutter. But contrast this to the current President who often seems to not understand the concept of compassion, mocking those with whom he disagrees. Nowhere does the difference in compassion play out starker than in the tone of the two candidates in regard to the Coronavirus Pandemic. Biden has repeatedly expressed empathy and remorse for those who have lost family members to COVID-19, while those words have yet to be spoken by the President, who responded to his own COVID recovery with only a more cavalier attitude toward the virus, saying it was nothing to worry about. Without a feeling that their leaders care about them as individuals no matter who they voted for, distrust and disenchantment toward government grows, which has extremely harmful effects.
Stability. No more than in 2020, the American people crave stability. And beyond the current instability, we know that a perception of stability for the future raises personal satisfaction by nine times. Instability has not only rattled the White House over the past four years, but has rattled the country, with the future more uncertain than ever. In fact, President Trump has made instability the norm in America. Part of the reason Biden prevailed in the Democratic Primary is because he was viewed as the stable candidate in the field. While Biden has moved to the left on some policy issues, his presidency is largely more predictable than a second Trump term, for which we have heard extremely few policy proposals or stated goals. Given the state of our international standing, the mere presence of Biden in the White House will offer a sense of stability to our allies abroad. At the recent television townhalls each candidate held, a Republican operative criticized Joe Biden for sounding like Mr. Rodgers, an attack that Biden happily welcomed. One of the qualities that has endeared so many to Fred Rodgers is the sense of stability he offered to American families day after day. After the past four years, we could use Mr. Rodgers in the White House.
Hope. Hope can often seem like a soft political buzzword that doesn’t mean much. We think back to President Obama’s first presidential campaign in which he campaigned on “Hope and Change,” yet was criticized for lacking substance behind it. Yet we do know that when our employees and citizens feel a sense of enthusiasm about the future, they are much more likely to be contributing members of their communities and be satisfied in work and life. While I cannot promise a rosy future free of all problems should Biden be elected, it is clear that his message is largely one of hope, while Trump’s invokes fear. Trump often warns of how terrible the country will be should Biden be elected, threatening the very livelihoods of Americans and destroying their neighborhoods. Biden’s tone is quite different. Rather than talking about a dystopian future, he talks about how he will work to heal the “soul of the nation,” restore civility, and bring the American people together. That is not guaranteed to happen, yet it is more than the current President cares to offer. Having simply the hope of a united country in these divisive times is enough to move in the right direction. Biden captures his message of hope perfectly in his most recent ad.
While the policy issues of immigration and abortion will be around to debate for presidential cycles to come, there is a bigger issue at stake in this election — one that we haven’t had to vote on before but may be existential for our society. That is the issue is of leadership. It may be the difference between furthering America’s decline or fulfilling the promise of being truly a great country, again.
We can all prosper and be our best selves in work and in our communities when our leaders practice the qualities of trust, compassion, stability, and hope. There is only one candidate on the ballot who embodies these attributes, and that is Joe Biden.