It was a startling change in American politics. A state with 11% registered Republicans actually elected one to the vacated Senate seat of Ted Kennedy. It's unbelievable when you realize the Democratic candidate had a twenty point lead just a month or so before the election.
While the pundits can dissect this race and point to several conclusions and shifts, I'd like to suggest that leaders, at any level, can learn a lot from this event. So here goes:
- When people are unsettled, they need involvement and communication. The American people are feeling the emotional toll of recession, job loss, war and cultural changes. When any group of people, whether your team, a whole company or a nation are feeling unsettled, leaders need to engage them, not ignore them and assume that they are trusted and can just ram home new policy and procedure behind closed doors.
- Morale goes to pot when people feel they are being deceived. It's no coincidence Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate's, drop in the polls coincided with back room dealing in Washington DC. People were left out when they were told they would be included. As leaders you must stand behind what you say and follow through. People also want to know what's going on and be informed. Many times they just want some meaning or understanding and once they know, they'll support you. Leaders can't afford to hide or make sweeping plans without involvement, communication and helping people understand the meaning (answer the question: "What does this mean to me?")
- People want to be heard. Despite the terrible poll numbers for health care reform, liberals have been insisting that socialized medicine is a winning issue.In Massachusetts, that theory was put to the test as both candidates campaigned heavily on it. Perhaps more importantly, the electorate voted on the issue. According to Rasmussen polling, “56% of Massachusetts voters named health care as the most important issue” and “41% strongly opposed the plan while just 25% strongly favored it.” It was an important issue and leaders didn't recognize how far away they were from the people's felt need and personal interest. As leaders it's our responsibility to listen and know our people's hearts. Frankly, many times the answers to our challenges can come from our people. They are closest to the work, they know how to get it done and more often than not, they have the answers if we just ask and then listen.
- You need more than charisma. Author Jim Collins makes the point in his book, Good to Great, that the charismatic leader is not as effective long-term as the leader who is humble and perseveres. The Democrats wrongly assumed that the charisma of President Obama and even the charisma of the late Ted Kennedy and his family would carry this election. It didn't. When people are distressed, feel out of touch and unappreciated, charisma is not going to sway them or lead them very long. It wears thin and people want sincerity, involvement, to be heard and to know their leaders are acting in their best interests.
This is a time for great opportunity and success if you are willing to learn from what is happening around you and apply it to your company.
How are you more involving your people? How have you increased communication? Are you listening to your people? Including the in decisions, strategy and the company performance?