Leadership Advice for the New Administration

On the evening of Wednesday, Nov. 9, one day after the general election here in the United States, I met with my graduate students who are in my course on leadership and interpersonal effectiveness. 

Up until this point, we hadn’t talked much about the U.S. presidential race in class. But I felt that on that one class the day after the election, it might make sense to do so. It just felt weird to not talk about it. Our course is about leadership, after all.

In particular, we’ve talked at length in the course about the agility required for leaders to pivot into new roles. This is particularly true for people who have never managed or led people before—that first-time manager job can be tough. 

And although both Secretary Clinton and now President-Elect Trump have extensive experience leading people and projects, transitioning from presidential hopeful to President of the United States must surely be a dramatic shift personally and professionally. 

For anyone. 

And so, on Nov. 9, with my class, we discussed. We talked about, based upon what we’ve covered in the course so far, what advice we would give to the new administration, including the newly elected President, in making this transition from campaigning to governing. 

We didn’t get into the politics of the matter. 

We didn’t get into who’s right and who’s wrong. 

Instead, I prefaced the conversation with a few observations:

  • If you’re sad today, about 59 million other people aren’t
  • If you’re happy today, about 59 million other people aren’t
  • Things are usually neither as good nor as bad as they may seem at first
  • The country isn’t even close to being at its peak of divisiveness, if you consider our entire history
  • We always have myriad reasons for which to be grateful about living in the United States

We then focused the conversation on leadership. Namely, we zeroed in on a few key concepts that could assist the new administration as it transitions into power during the next few months. 

Here are some of the excellent observations that emerged from our discussion. The new administration could benefit from, among other things, doing the following:

  • Communicate differently. Remember that one’s words have consequences, and those consequences are often magnified when spoken from positions of authority. Also, move from generalities and begin speaking more precisely about goals and policies. 
  • Empathize. Although the nation isn’t as divided as it was in 1862, that’s not exactly a high bar for cohesion. People get inspired when they feel as though their leaders are listening to them and attempting to understand their situations. This, for the new administration, includes people of all backgrounds, status levels and ideologies. Trust must be earned, and it must begin with demonstrating respect. 
  • Share leadership and delegate. Remember that it’s OK to not know everything. Seek and rely upon experts for complicated decisions. Include people who think differently from you—maybe even very differently—in the conversation. Think carefully about whom you appoint to key positions, and demonstrate an openness to ideas and people who aren’t necessarily familiar at the moment. 
  • Flip your mindset from “me” to “we.” This bit of advice comes directly from the great book we’re reading in the course—Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work For—by my good friend Bill Gentry. The new administration must broaden its message, recognizing that being a great leader requires an emphasis on the people you’re trying to lead—not on your own greatness. 

Another bit of advice from my class? Maybe the newly elected President shouldn’t take a salary, or maybe he should donate all of it to a reputable charity. 

I was particularly impressed with my class and their ideas on this tough, emotionally freighted topic. I have no idea if the new administration will do anything that resembles the ideas my class discussed or not. But the new regime would, I think, be wise to consider them. 

Because regardless of your preferences, we’re all on the same ship. And although we Americans can fight and bicker and sling mud at each other with the best of them, we also have a proud tradition of peaceful transitions of power and of resilience. 

So, let’s get to work. 

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About Ben Baran
Ben Baran, Ph.D., is probably one of the few people in the world who is equally comfortable in a university classroom, a corporate boardroom and in full body armor carrying a U.S. government-issued M4 assault rifle. Visit: www.benbaran.com