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5 Political Leadership Styles Aimed At Winning YOU!

by Andrew Gill

Andrew GillWhat does over 25 years of leadership consulting say about the presidential candidates’ leadership style…or lack of it?

As a vice president of consulting and delivery with DDI, I have been involved in the assessment and development of leaders for more than 25 years. As an import from Australia, I have been working in the U.S. since 2000 and this is my sixth presidential election. As a student of leadership—both practical and theoretical, I tend to view these races through that lens and consider what kind of leader candidate “x” would be.

5 Political Leadership Styles Aimed At Winning YOU!This year has proven to be a bumper crop in that regard. But, as I have been following both the Democratic and Republican races, it occurred to me that five predominant political leadership styles stand out in this race—all of them aimed at winning YOU, the voter, to their cause. As such, I have categorized each of the five and defined them by how candidates relate to YOU. They are:

The MOU—It’s really about Me not you
The TOU—I Think, therefore I am the best for you
The SOU—I want to Save you
The COU—I want to Control you
The ROU—I am a Reflection of you

I believe that leadership is fundamentally a combination of two key factors:

  1. The head—The ability to evaluate situations/issues and to set direction/make sound decisions, and;
  2. The heart—The ability to inspire, engage and guide others to translate those decisions and actions into reality.

I have attempted to evaluate the five political leadership styles against those two factors. While these styles are inspired by the U.S. presidential race, I believe they could apply across countries and cultures.

Political leadership styles

MOU—It’s really about Me not you. MOUs see themselves running for office as a favor to you or they are running for office believing they have the answers to the problems facing the country. As leaders, their approach is dominated by confidence bordering on arrogance. No, it is arrogance! They are typically smart and strategic and they usually have had success in other fields which has blinded them to their limitations and gives them a false sense of their own brilliance. They will listen to others as long as those people agree with them and they therefore surround themselves with yes people whose job it is to bring their vision or ideas to life. On the flip side, they deal with people who disagree with them by belittling them and their ideas. If something goes wrong, they look to blame others, circumstances or fate—anything as long as it is not themselves—or they move on quickly to something else. MOUs often start mud-slinging and never worry about the facts getting in the way of a good insult. Their ideas often lack details or contain panacea-like solutions, but their sound bites are appealing. Just don’t dig too deep. In an organization, they are often out after three years or end up owning their own companies. As politicians, they typically have a 12-month to two-year lifespan, as their lack of realistic how quickly exposes their ideas for what they are—unworkable and unsustainable. Political slogan: You Are Welcome, America!

TOU—I Think, therefore I am the best for you. TOUs focus on thought and rationale. They want to find the right way to do things. They revere the facts and seek information to make informed and balanced decisions. Typically flagship-college educated and often earning multiple degrees, they see themselves moving easily between business, politics and the common people with a calm and detached ease. As leaders, they are always open to others’ points of view but want their perspective on issues heard. As such, they surround themselves with smart people and make sure they have an informed point of view on just about everything. They typically try to make the right decision and if something goes wrong, they analyze it to find out why—which is usually because they were not in possession of a vital piece of information, circumstances suddenly changed or something unforeseen occurred. Unfortunately, with others, their detached objectivity can come across as cold and distant and they find themselves needing to work on how they connect with people, which they do for short spurts but find hard to maintain. TOUs are often seen as having vision but lack passion. They may start the mud-slinging but it is clever and usually sarcastic or witty. They have a policy position for everything and, as such, are often wrong as much as they are right. As politicians, they make great political commentators, circuit speakers and guest professors. Political slogan: It’s Only Logical, America—Vote for Me.

SOU—I want to Save you…from you or whatever is potentially unfair or, in their mind, threatening your future. SOUs want government to provide a safety net, solutions and money that saves you from whatever it is you need saving from, even if you don’t want to be saved, such as global warming, the wealthy, or American Imperialism, etc. They believe the role of government is to ensure that everyone has equal opportunity—whether they want it or not—and are staunch defenders of your rights, as long as those rights match up with what they want to save you from. Put another way, they believe you have the right to choose, but they want to save you from bad choices. As leaders they are caring and compassionate—always talking about the needs of people, the planet and the future. They value social issues over economic ones and inherently believe most people are good at heart. They don’t typically mud-sling (even if they are being slung at, they stoically take it, like a parent dealing with a petulant child). They focus on real issues, no matter how disinterested people may be. As leaders, they are liked and often loved, but find it hard to make difficult decisions and move to action, preferring harmony over conflict. They are always open to others’ points of view and will listen, understand and even acknowledge some good points. In the end, they are driven by their beliefs and drive their own agenda. Political slogan: You Are Worth Saving, America.

COU—I want to Control you. In reality the SOU and COU are two sides of the same coin but look, sound and feel different. COUs possess strong moral beliefs. They believe in government controlling everything that is defined by them to be immoral and wrong (often through legislation—way to go, separation of church and state). At the same time, they passionately resist points of view from people who have the audacity to believe something else by telling them they are morally wrong or by highlighting disastrous consequences—even if all the evidence says the other person is right. They typically support a laissez-faire economy, big business and repeatedly slam big government as wasteful and… well BIG. Like the SOU, they support your right to be free and will expect every man, woman and child to protect those freedoms, as long as they are the freedoms they believe in. As leaders, COUs are passionate, determined and confident—although not always that smart. They keep their messages simple and defend them no matter what the facts say. They don’t usually start the mud-slinging, but will respond, although not very well and usually with the evergreen "liar, liar, pants on fire" approach. Many will take action to support their beliefs—but others are just annoying, and over time are like barking dogs responding to the same issue in the same way with little or no change in message (my apologies to the dogs). Political slogan: Let’s Be Great Again, America! (by taking away your diversity, fairness, alternative beliefs, and freedom of choice).

ROU—I am a Reflection of you. What is appealing about ROUs is that there is always some part of their message we can all relate to, and their interpersonal and initial impact skills enable them to talk directly to you, whether in small groups or on the broader political stage. As voters, we feel their words resonate and are drawn to their familiarity. Unfortunately, like a reflection, they lack personal substance—they initially look and feel like us, but when you turn away, the reflection goes and they move on to reflect others. As leaders, their ability to make effective decisions and take action is dictated by the strength of those closest to them—the ones they reflect the most. If surrounded by a strong team, they can be an effective mouth piece reflecting outwards others’ views and agendas. Unfortunately, if their team is weak or even average, or if issues venture outside their teams’ capabilities or suddenly change, they quickly look transparent and weak, and will struggle under pressure to stand their ground because they don’t have any or are unable to find a workable solution. More grounded opponents will quickly target their lack of substance and, unless their team can continually provide them with a solid position on issues, they will start to look uncertain and ineffective. They can rally briefly but longer term they can’t sustain the momentum and the reflection disappears. Political slogan: I Am You, America.

What other political leadership-style categories would you identify? Are there any others?

Andrew Gill is vice president of consulting for DDI.

Posted: 29 Feb, 2016,
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