My dear friend John Rishton has an aphorism: commentary is easy, leadership is hard. John has been there. He was CEO of two major international organisations and FD of another. He knows the truth of what he has said. The USA presidential election is demonstrating the validity of the principle.
The airwaves are now buzzing with the commentary of those who are guilty of being wise after the fact or when little is at stake for the commentator. Few have skin in the game. And those who do are scarcely able to be objective. The issue is not ‘what should have happened?’ but what to do now? And there are leadership lessons to be learned by anyone wishing to step back from the emotions of frustration, anger or despondency and see the situation unfold more dispassionately.
There are two principal actors in this drama but a cast of thousands. One has decided that he wants to question the process, even to challenge it in the courts. He seems hell bent on pushing claims that most disinterested observers point out are groundless, even if doing so undermines faith in the processes themselves and, ultimately, in American democracy. He appears to be demonstrating his own principle that winning is hard but losing is harder.
The other is biding his time. He seems to want to be presidential before he is president. He gives the strong impression that he wants to be the change he wants to see. He has prepared an army of lawyers, should it be needed, but that seems to be as a counter-measure rather than an attack strategy.
It must be hard for Joe Biden right now. This is his third attempt at winning the White House in his own right and he still may not do so. He is in his late seventies and he knows he is unlikely to have another tilt at winning the prize he has sought for several decades. The impulse to rant at the situation nationally and in the battleground states must be huge. But, if he wants to lead a nation and bring it back together after such a divisive election and incumbency, he must start now, even before he is appointed, if he is.
The leadership lessons for us all are clear. A leader is well advised to start out as she or he means to go on. A leader must be strong and well prepared but patient. A leader must be the change he or she wants to see, even in the face of wild accusations and public distortions of the facts. If values matter, and they do, they must be lived in the tough times.
Perhaps the most obvious lesson of all is the power of not giving up despite personal tragedy, setbacks and losses. The lessons for leaders are there for all to see.
By David Pendleton
Henley Centre for Leadership