3 Leadership Lessons from the Presidential Campaign

Election seasons often bring out the worst in Americans, regardless of political bent, actual truth, or desire to avoid politics altogether. But insights can be gleaned from any situation, and sometimes the ugliest illustrations provide the greatest instruction.

In this case, the Clinton and Trump campaigns offer three valuable reminders for all leaders.    


If politicians know one truth, it is that tearing down their opponents will sway votes. The best way to create doubt about a candidate is to coin a memorable moniker about her weakness and repeat it often. But a successful politician will get ahead of the attack by acknowledging the supposed weakness and presenting it as a strength instead. Donald Trump uses his outsider position (his lack of political experience) as a selling point. Hillary Clinton played on an adversarial comment about her gender by creating the Woman Card.

Leaders should be aware of their weaknesses, both perceived and real, but not afraid of them. Leadership requires the courage to act authentically and to embrace the presence of flaws alongside talents. Good leaders press into their trouble spots, rather than try to hide them. They bring their whole selves to the table and are prepared to demonstrate why their apparent weaknesses are necessary for the work they do.   


Pneumonia is not a big deal. But when it is concealed, then caught on camera, it becomes one. Filing (and paying) taxes should also be a routine procedure. But refusing to release tax returns understandably raises concerns about what might be hiding there.

Hopefully, most leaders are not conducting shady or illegal business transactions. But they’re certainly making mistakes. All leaders have misspoken, misjudged, and misstepped. Rather than wait for their board, their customers, or their competition to discover - and possibly exploit - their blunders, strong leaders will admit them upfront.

Leaders take responsibility for their actions and take action on their responsibilities. Owning up to a mistake as soon as it is made allows energy that would have been wasted in an attempt to cover it up to be used instead for resolving it. This allows the leader and the organization to move forward freely, rather than be hindered or distracted by the mistake.


Political races feel just like...a race. With 24/7 media coverage and a smartphone in the hand of every voter, candidates are pressured to respond instantly to every comment and circumstance. But their snap judgments and quick opinions usually get them into trouble. (Too many examples could be mentioned to press this point)

Wise leaders know when to slow down and shut up. They are unhurried in their responses because they are not concerned with having the last word. They know that a pause allows their brains to think rather than their mouths to run.

These leaders gain more ground by speaking smartly instead of responding haphazardly. They can tell the difference between urgency and importance. They refuse to let someone else set the agenda for their business, and they pace their decisions accordingly.   


The weaknesses, mistakes, and words of leaders can either be limitations or advantages. As a result, a leader’s best strategy is to present the truth, no matter how painful. A self-aware leader who openly discusses her limitations, owns her faults, and makes space for thoughtful conversation is ultimately the leader who will last. This type of courageous leadership could even teach our presidential candidates a thing or two.  

If you are a leader who wants to press more into her strengths or needs to get re-aligned with his truths, let's have a conversation