What is “leadership?“ Everyone knows a leader when they see one. But to define what effective leadership means is a much trickier challenge. To lead according to Merriam website is to “to direct the operations, activity, or performance of or to guide someone or something along a way.” Most of us have come to believe that a leader tells us which way to go and what to do.
We are wrong.
Good leaders remove obstacles and empower their teams to make decisions. They do this by knowing their strengths, effectively communicating and demonstrating strong mental resilience and accountability.
To illustrate what a good leader is, look at the recent French presidential elections. Emanuel Macron pulled of a stunning victory; only 39 years old, having never held elected office with a political movement hardly one year old. How did he succeed? Visionary leadership.
Macron demonstrates the fundamentals of effective leadership. Firstly, he is clearly self-aware and knows his place within the country. As in the United States the voters are frustrated with a divided and obstructive political dynamic. Political leaders spend more time sabotaging each other than accomplishing the people’s work. Macron realized that his youth and outsider character would provide a unique argument for positive change.
Secondly, he communicated that awareness with an effectively marketed message. Technological change and globalization have changed the face of employment and are threatening the livelihoods of millions throughout the economically advanced countries of the world. The knee jerk response of most of us is to clamp down on change and focus on what is wrong. Macron realized that this is a recipe for bankruptcy and irrelevance that challenges the ideals of freedom, opportunity and progress that liberal democratic states espouse.
Macron convinced his supporters that rather than turn to the hate filled and reactionary ideals of populists like Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump that a campaign focusing on addressing the root cause of voter’s fears would bring the best results. Thus, Macron campaigned to adapt progressive thinking for the 21st-century economy. For instance, his labor model aims to change France’s labor laws to be based on individual rights to protect workers rather than protect jobs. This will allow for continued innovation but support those who are left behind due to automation or antiquated skills while they re-train for a new job.
Thirdly, President Macron demonstrates the mental resilience to stick to this message regardless of the uphill battle he faced. Quoted by the Guardian Macron illustrates this focus, “I make no concessions to conformism.” He illustrates this not just through his marriage to his former teacher, 24 years his senior, but of his political project. He resigned in August of 2016 as Economy minister saying that he had “touched with his own finger, the limits of the system,” when his policies to reform labor laws faced street protests and were watered down. To repair the French political system, he started his own political movement, signed up 300,000 members (twice that of the Socialist Party, the party of outgoing President Hollande) and won the presidency. To organize all of this in a year requires a focus and resilience that true leaders must foster. He has a clear vision and stays focused on it.
Lastly Macron is highly accountable. Politicians of France have been behaving very much like those of the US. They have allowed themselves to become captives of special interest groups and focus on keeping their positions and perks rather than improving governance. This ineptitude has given rise to populists on both the left and right of the political spectrum who promise social revolution against the cosseted elite. Macron realized that the leaders of France’s existing political parties were behaving exactly as those of the US; simply aping the populists fearmongering and irresponsible promises hoping to keep their power by ‘answering’ the people’s fears—but not addressing the root cause of the problem. Instead of trying to combat the populist National Front led by Marine Le Pen, politicians had focused on shutting them out of power and coopting on some of the ideas the party espoused such as anti-immigration and tougher social policy on Islamic expression.
Accountable leaders never point fingers. They develop solutions. Macron concluded that the French needed to hear the case for a positive solution to the problems brought on by technology and globalization: an open, tolerant, pro-European society, supported through private enterprise with clear paths out of poverty for globalization’s losers.
Our American politicians should take note. Donald Trump won with the same message the Marine Le Pen ran on. His opponents failed because they attempted to coopt his message but none could say it as effectively as he could since all were part of the system many voters view as corrupt. An accountable leader accepts this and changes the argument with a positively communicated vision for the future that is fiscally responsible, free market based and tolerant.
Where is the American version of Emmanuel Macron?
By Ryan Sanders
Co-founder EII Consulting