Real Leaders Win
When I begin working with a candidate they often walk into their first meeting with “the leadership consultant” thinking they are going to be told how transform themselves into the perfect leader. They envision eloquence, confidence and a powerful presence on the stump all but ensuring an easy path to victory. What my clients find greeting them is not a person who will simply tell them what to say and how to say it—rather they discover someone insightful enough to see who they really are and strong enough to encourage them to be themselves.
What transpired in the first President debate of the 2012 election cycle is the difference between these two approaches. While clearly misinterpreting many of the real world results of his policy positions, Governor Romney showed up as a man who had finally started to own the person he is—a successful businessman and former Massachusetts Governor. He talked about working with a majority democratic legislature, he pointed to jobs he created and he had fun connecting his life to the future he wants to create for America.
President Obama, on the other hand, was tepid, terse and tired. This was a man who was no longer enlivened by the task at hand and certainly not inspired by the opportunities he discussed. Four years of the Presidency in one of history’s most politically, economically and diplomatically challenging times may be enough to take the wind out of any man’s sails and if Obama wants to be given the chance for another four years he will need to tap into why he really wants the job.
Which leads me to his advisors, who failed him last night. Yes, a leader ought to have known he was headed for disaster and it was clear that he was prepared to fight an intellectual battle on the merits of his policies, rather than to tap into the vision and values of who he is as the fuel for his fire. And here is where the fundamental problem of his Presidency has been, in his heart he knows what is right and he believes in his ability to create it and yet, time and again he allows his inner circle to politicize each move rather than connect it to what is real for him and the American people.
We are all yearning for true leadership in the Oval Office. The choice being explored in last night’s debate was the difference between Republican and Democratic policies—but more was in play and always is. The truth about elections is that certain people will vote for a candidate because of their partisan orientation regardless of the quality of the candidate. Which leaves a small number of people who are looking for the candidate that connects with them in a way that makes them a believer. It is these people who ultimately decide elections—and for them the only road to success is to be authentic and to make the connection.
Leadership of this nature is not something that can be given to a person, it must be brought out. If last night was any indication of what is going on in the two Presidential election camps it is that the Republicans have finally started to see that the “real” Romney might not be so bad after all and the Democrats should perhaps encourage their leader to be less focused on being Presidential and support him in being who he is. It is the only way he will win the election, it is also the only way he will accomplish what he truly longs to do.