Living in lower Manhattan, teaching at New York University and Columbia University, I’m in a Hillary Clinton stronghold. Most people around me despise Donald Trump viscerally and express it. I haven’t heard anyone here express support for him. I’ve heard thousands chant “Not my president” and say “He’s not qualified.”
Like it or not, Clinton supporters acting this way created votes for Trump and kept Clinton supporters home. Whether they were right, wrong, good, or bad, I can’t say. But our Constitution allows people to vote for any reason they want. If you supported Clinton and felt you were right and the other side was wrong, your behavior probably motivated people on the fence to vote for Trump.
I hear Clinton supporters continuing this self-righteous behavior post-inauguration. Maybe they are right. Say they are. What’s the effect of their behavior? It got Trump votes and it lost Clinton votes.
If you supported her, again, you may feel right. Maybe you are. Maybe it builds community. The question I put to you is: Do you want to help make it eight years?
Why expect the behavior that got him four years not to keep delivering him support? I publicly reached beyond my geographic bubble to speak to Trump supporters. They said they kept quiet about supporting him out of fear, saw Clinton supporters as aggressive, intolerant, and hateful, and were pleasantly surprised at someone reaching out to understand.
No one had communicated with them before to understand. The media were blindsided because no one knew what was going on. Low awareness never helps leadership.
If you want to influence others, you want to lead them. Venting may feel good, but what is the result?
My mentor, Marshall Goldsmith, #1 bestselling leadership author and thinker, presents a concept I call WINDETIT, for Will I Now Do Enough To Improve This? If you aren’t going to do enough to improve something, you complaining, feeling miserable or getting angry only makes your life worse.
If you will do enough to improve something, a core principle of effective leadership is to put the interests of those you want to lead before yours. It feels good to speak only to people who agree with you and bring them together, but if you want people who voted against you to vote with you next time, you have to lead them, which means understanding them and putting their interests first.
People can vote for whatever reason they want. You telling them you’re right and they’re wrong won’t motivate them. Actually, it will. It will motivate them to dig in their heels. Believing you’re right and they’re wrong without saying it will make you sound inauthentic.
Maybe you are right in some absolute sense. Maybe they are wrong. They don’t believe you’re right, so telling them you are estranges you and undermines your influence. Telling them they’re wrong tells them you don’t understand them and leads them to stop listening to you. Yes, you’re leading them – in the opposite direction you intended.
It’s uncomfortable to try to understand the motivations, beliefs, and perspectives of someone you disagree with. All the more if you despise them. The word for that skill is empathy. It’s a deeply difficult skill to master, because of this deep discomfort. Lack of empathy holds many people back from ability to lead others – be they voters for a different side, bosses, clients, spouses, kids, and so on.
Many of history’s greatest leaders empathized with their greatest enemies. Think of Gandhi with the British, or Mandela, who by widespread account showed no hostility or anger to leaders of a regime that imprisoned him for 27 years.
Not empathizing or understanding helped get someone you despise four years in the White House. If you don’t like Trump, do you want to contribute to making it eight years?
Joshua Spodek, PhD MBA, is an adjunct professor of leadership and entrepreneurship at NYU and the author of the new book, “Leadership Step by Step: Become the Person Others Follow,” which features Spodek’s successful, innovative, real-life leadership exercises designed to cultivate key abilities, behaviors and beliefs experientially.