It wouldn’t be hyperbolic to refer to this election as the most contentious in history.
With this year’s presidential debates being the most watched of all time, the political fireworks have gotten people talking—and arguing—more than almost any other election ever. But whether it’s Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton who takes the day on November 8th, there’s a lot that corporate leaders can learn from the way that voters have responded to the controversial climate of the race.
Here are 4 Things Leaders Can Learn From This Election
Being Right Only Gets You So Far
This election, there’s been a non-stop back and forth about which candidate has said what. Fact checkers have been working overtime to keep up and ensure that the American public is informed about who’s telling the truth and who is not. The trouble is, for the most part, Americans don’t seem to care about the truth and who said what when. People, for the most part, are more concerned about the issues that matter most to them than who is right or wrong.
Much like voters, employees at an organization in crisis lose interest in hearing managers argue about who’s right and who’s wrong. When this type of in-fighting at the senior or management level is rampant, employees tend to silo. Worse yet, in some instances, employees may take sides or even leave the company for greener pastures. Even if senior managers disagree with each other, the right and wrong of the argument are not the be-all-end-all. Like voters, employees are willing to hear out respectful debates and disagreements between members of the leadership team when handled with civility. However, when the attacks at the top get personal and ugly, employees will not care who is right, they will care about how the issues impact them and if they can risk staying with that company.
Beware Trickle Down Toxicity
Bad blood oozes down from the top. Just as the bitterness between the candidates and their parties has divided voters across the country, so too do disagreements between C-Suite leaders decimate company morale. Many managers may scratch their heads trying to figure out why employees are bickering or even quitting while employee job satisfaction plummets without ever guessing that it could be the fighting at the top. But even in companies that are so large that the leadership may feel removed from the rank and file, beware the fact that the leaders set the tone and employees are often more receptive to the internal rancor than their bosses assume.
The Best Resume Doesn’t Always Get the Job
Getting passed up for a promotion to the upper echelons of your organization can be frustrating and demoralizing. It can be even worse when the person who takes your coveted role lacks your credentials and, instead, proves simply to be a better politician with finer skills at winning popular opinion.
This was certainly the story during the primaries the once perceived as party frontrunners—Jeb Bush, for one—simply could not compete with Trump who lacked a comparable resume in public office but proved capable of winning support and attention.
Sometimes, leadership means understanding why you haven’t reached the top position of power in your organization or industry. If you are passed up for a promotion and watch as another candidate sails past you without your qualifications, it’s best to watch and learn. Maybe your rival understood something about what your organization was looking for that you didn’t.
When They Go Low, You Go High
In a heated town hall debate on Sunday night, no one was surprised to find Trump and Clinton disagreeing on virtually every topic across the board. But while Trump repeatedly interrupted Clinton, the former Secretary of State refused to be ruffled and refused to do the same. Even as the attacks turned personal and Trump took Clinton’s family to task, she quoted First Lady Michelle Obama’s famous saying: “When they go low, we go high.” The crowd erupted into applause.
In a workplace, being a manager can often mean having a large target sign on your back. Other senior leaders may see you as a threat, and even your own reports might be angling to take your job sometime sooner than you’d hope. These rivals and competitors may try and shake your confidence, break you down and cast doubt on your abilities. Let them try. Fighting fire with fire only sends the company culture into a tailspin. But even when people disagree with you, your response to attacks will always be telling. Having a meltdown can be a career and reputation killer. Remaining collected, staying true to your strategy and in control of your emotions will always win respect. Even Trump couldn’t help remarking on Clinton’s gumption at the end of the second presidential debate: “She doesn’t quit. She doesn’t give up. I respect that…she does fight hard and she doesn’t quit and she doesn’t give up and I consider that to be a very good trait.”
Also read: 5 Steps to Handle an Aggressive Colleague