What a past presidency can teach us about the future of leadership

Joe biden official portrait 2013

What a past presidency can teach us about the future of leadership

Rather uncomfortable – we as an active part of the Trump leadership phenomenon?

A first uncomfortable thought. How much of the Trump phenomenon is in all of us, at work, in our leadership or community behaviour? Have you, at times, subordinated everything, including some of your values, to winning? A leisurely approach to accountability? Economical with the truth at times in the organisation? Just kicking the can down the road for your own gain, but not for progress? Maybe misogynistic or racist? Not really interested in all your constituents as a manager?

A second uncomfortable thought. How much of the Trump phenomenon and its implication for leadership have you, we, I, enabled through non-action? Have we ignored the business and societal undercurrents that are in people’s minds? Staying in our own echo chambers instead of engaging with constructive and robust debate based on goodwill? Ira Chaleff’s work on intelligent disobedience is a practical challenge to our own assumptions.

The Biden presidency as leadership – give him some slack

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have the challenge of so much hope projected onto them. Some of the expectations and tasks that many in the US and around the globe share might be unsurmountable challenges.

Let’s start with leadership that is healing a polarised nation, not half of it. Healing in front of a background where some say an America before 2017 was supposedly normal. Others instead argue what we saw in the last four years is fundamentally what normality means in the Unites States. The leadership instrument of collaborative sense-making will be a key to healing!

There are also calls for the USA in President Biden to reappear as the sole leader of the West. Are we longing for an outdated leadership paradigm in view of global challenges? Making this happen might have unintended consequences: it lets other leaders and nations off the hook and out of responsibility. In many businesses we have seen that focusing on a single leader for wicked problems is a risky tactic. Not least it makes an organisation overly dependent on the CEO or managing director.

Give President Biden some slack and refocus on what you and others can add for leading successfully at local and global scale.

Leadership in crisis? No, it matters more than ever – leadership reimagined!

Saying “leadership in crisis?” is too easy a cop-out. Instead, it is a chance to revisit decent and purposeful leadership and how leadership is done in democracies.

We have followed at least two US elections where one side fundamentally felt it was the wrong result. We can revisit the art of constructive compromise. In politics and in organisations, leaders can revisit how to address partisanships and identify conflicts. The “always on opposite sides of the fence” principle needs challenge.

Where to start? Look for positive role models in your professional vicinity, neighbourhoods, in contemporary businesses. Enable connectors, not separatists. Focus on local and global leadership attention and activism to turn the tide for the leadership brand.

Try this! For a different normal

Here are a few thoughts for the next virtual lunch, coffee break, senior executive meeting:

  • Where have you noticed yourself in the first and second uncomfortable thoughts above?
  • Which person could you go back to, very practically, to do some healing?
  • Where can you revisit your own expectation toward a single leader?
  • What activity or practice can you start or revisit tomorrow that helps the journey to make leadership – reimagined – matter more than ever?

Bernd Vogel

Professor Bernd Vogel is Director of the Henley Centre for Leadership. He helps organisations with his expertise in leadership for creating and sustaining organisational energy, energising management teams, developing inspiring and purposeful leadership and fellowship, and leading change. He teaches the Leadership and Change module in the MBA Programme, is involved in the new programme the Henley MA Leadership and is Module Convenor for "Leadership Theory and Practice" in Postgraduate Masters Programmes.


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