Determining the outcome of an election is no more difficult than accessing which candidate is most comfortable in his or her own skin. Even with this knowledge, it is a spectacle each election as we witness the mind-blowing lengths candidates go through to make us believe they are something they are not. Bad advisers and a confused self-image are only part of the problem. Ultimately, we are a nation craving authentic leaders while wanting our officials to be perfect reflections of who we are.
To the first point, several of my earlier blogs this election cycle describe the phenomenon of authentic leadership as the only real gateway to success. In particular, those seeking elected office are under intense public scrutiny so being firmly rooted their unique talents and strengths is paramount. One step outside the bounds of authenticity and the media spends hours dissecting the transgression.
To the tactics of how political advisers attempt to bridge who their candidate to truly “is” with who they think is electable in a given political cycle has become the bane off American politics. For each election, pollsters determine what they feel the electorate wants and then work with media advisers to craft messages to win support. At this end of this process is a candidate who must take on the temperament as prescribed by their brain trust and attempt to deliver a compelling message to the public. This is an outside-in approach and one that is doomed to failure. Look no further than the multiple Romney gaffes as evidence that regardless of what one is “told” to say, if they don’t embody it, it won’t come out the right way.
Why does everyone do this? Why do political consultants work so hard to win over voters by trying to show their candidate is just like them? Because they have failed to understand the true meaning of voters wanting to vote for someone “just like them.” Yes, we want a leader with whom we feel comfortable sitting down and sharing a beer AND we don’t want them to be just like us, we want them to be a better version of ourselves. That means someone who is actually comfortable being themselves and is willing to be open about what they believe. The most difficult thing for people to do is to be real with others (especially if they are not sure other’s will agree with them) and to let people see what they believe, feel and want for the future.
Being clear about yourself does not mean you don’t listen to others, you don’t learn from others’ or that you don’t meet someone half-way; it does, however, mean that you clearly communicate where you are coming from so that people don’t constantly have to wonder who is showing up each day. Isn’t that the problem with many elected officials? One-day they are pro-this or anti-that and the next they have back away based on the prevailing political winds. When a leader is clear about who he is, all his actions are anchored in core values that are clearly shared with others.
In this election cycle we will continue to watch as the Presidential candidates work to convince us they are best suited for the job. Perhaps it would be a more fruitful exercise if Governor Romney and President Obama determined what about their leadership skills make them best suited to be President for the next four years and then share that with us in the coming months. After all, the great things about Americans is that we know if someone is telling us what they think we want to hear or if they are confident enough to show us who they really are.