Leaders have to be more perfect than those around them. When their constituents respond emotionally, strong leaders do not respond in kind—they refuse to get baited.
How do they do it?
By anticipating the punch they know is coming. Great leaders don’t set themselves up for disappointment by expecting others to be perfect. Instead, they expect that some segment of their base will be unhappy, and that the most unhappy will scream the loudest.
And when I say that they anticipate this, I don’t just mean they say, “Oh, yeah, sure, someone won’t like it.” I mean that they plan for it.
Great leaders ask themselves: “As a leader, if I’m 100% responsible for a successful outcome, then what must I do next?” They answer that question honestly and proactively alter their behavior as a result.
Leadership is not always about being nice. Sometimes, it’s about power and politics. When it is, it’s important to look not only at what you do, but how you do it. It’s not enough to lay out your plans when others are preparing to knock you off your pedestal. You have to lay out your plans in a way in which makes it hard for others to attack you.
Don’t like that? Think it’s impolite and demeaning? Do you believe everyone should be treated as if they’ll always act according to their highest selves?
Stay the hell away from leadership roles.
Leaders encourage people to be better, but also know that no one works against his own self-interest. And when self-interest and the greater good collide, leaders expect people to serve themselves. They expect this, they anticipate that these problems will manifest in people taking swings at their leaders, and they do what they have to do to protect themselves proactively.
For instance, the President of the United States recently outlined a strategy for Afghanistan. Irrespective of whether one likes his plan or not, he knows ahead of time that the GOP is going to disagree with whatever he says, because it’s in their interest to disagree with him—irrespective of whether or not squabbling with the president is good generally.
He proactively took much of the wind out of their sails, first by leaking the troop surge (which they’d like), and then by framing his most controversial proposal—a time line for troop withdrawal in Afgahnistan—in terms of (1) our economic reality and (2) his desire to limit our government’s reach… the very issues the GOP has used to fight against his domestic (read: health care) plans.
The GOP is stuck. They can’t exactly say, “We refuse to spend this money on your health, but we will spend it on a foreign war.”
In his day, Bush muted Democrats’ punches by effectively equating dissension with anti-Americanism.
If you want to lead, you need to think like this, too. There’s no “tips & tricks” for politics. You need to work through every situation anew, going beyond the plan to anticipate opposition and communicating in a way that dampens it.
Jason Seiden is CEO of Ajax Workforce Marketing. Ajax amplifies brands by aligning employees' online messaging.