Why would anyone vote for you…?

As I sit down to write this post, very early this morning, the outcome of the US election is still too close to call, or so the TV pundits are saying – although the way they are now talking, it looks like Obama will shade it. One thing for sure, by the time you read this, the answer will likely be known.

Anyway, given the day that was in it yesterday, I thought that starting with this little anecdote I came across recently in the New York Times might be appropriate and would make a good intro for today’s topic. Apparently, a gentleman named David A. Siegel, a 77 year-old CEO of a major time-share company in the US, wrote to his 7,000 employees last week, saying the following: “The economy doesn’t currently pose a threat to your job. What does threaten your job, however, is another four years of the same presidential administration…..if any new taxes are levied on me, or my company, as our current president plans, I will have no choice but to reduce the size of this company.”

When word got out about the letter, Mr. Siegel was inundated with requests by media outlets to clarify what he meant. In response, he stressed that he was not ordering his employees to vote his way: “There’s no way I can pressure anybody,” he said. “I’m not in the voting booth with them… I really wanted them to know how I felt four more years under President Obama was going to affect them. It would be no different from telling your children: ‘Eat your spinach. It’s good for you.”

Hmmm.

That said, such responses are hardly all that surprising really considering that The Huffington Post reported back in June about a conference call Mitt Romney had with members of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, which he ended by saying, “I hope you make it very clear to your employees what you believe is in the best interest of your enterprise and therefore their job and their future in the upcoming elections.”

Anyway, I have no political comment to make on the above – apart from the obvious – but yesterday as I read about the two incidents, it did set me thinking. What if Mr. Siegel’s employees had to vote to keep him on as boss, what would they be looking for? Would he fit the bill? Would he survive the vote…? Now, before I get any irate emails or comments posted, I am not promoting the view that employees should get to vote for their boss; however, I am suggesting that, given all the election talk floating around at the moment, it would a useful reflection exercise for you to think about: what if your employees did have the capacity to vote you in or out, what if they could choose whether you got a second term, or not? What would your standing be in the polls?

Naturally, when it comes to voting of any kind there are always a range of issues which influence the decision making process. But, let’s for today focus on the personality side of things and funnily enough, were that imaginary world where employees voted for their bosses to materialise, you’d probably find that many of the traits that US voters were thinking about as they made their decision yesterday would apply just as well in a work context. And what would those personality-based factors be? In an article in Psychology Today, entitled Presidential Personality: What Voters Want? John D Mayer highlighted the well-researched traits that people look for in their president which he summarised as:

  • First, followers want a leader. We want a president and we want to be led.
  • Second, followers are highly suggestible in response to forceful and vivid communication.
  • Third, followers have strong emotional attachments to their leaders.
  • Fourth, followers hope for and respond to fair treatment from their leaders
  • Fifth, followers look to leaders to help represent and define the group’s identity.
  • Sixth, and finally, followers hope that their leaders’ personalities will be strong, active, and positive.”

These personality-related factors apply just as well in a work context, I find, and if your employees were pondering your future against these six factors, how do you think you would measure up in their eyes?

Do you lead your people?

In every election anywhere in the world the ‘leadership’ and ‘vision’ stuff always comes up in some shape or form – what’s the candidate’s vision for the country? and so on, because people want a national leader they can feel good about; and they want someone who has a plan. Often, in a work context, we imagine that our employees don’t judge their leaders in the same way, but it’s been proven time and time again that employees do actually want a boss who can stir them, and they also want to know – or the majority of employees do – where the business is headed.

On the leadership side of things, do you think your people feel really inspired by you, or do you think they believe you have a vision where things are headed in the business, or for that part of it which you are responsible, that they can buy into? Would they be racing to the poll booth to cast a vote for you based on that vision?

How effective are you as a communicator?

You could see just how much Obama struggled with the communication side of things this time around as he had to tone down the lofty rhetoric and preacher-style delivery that worked so well the last time out: ”Give me more time” just didn’t  have the same ring to it as ‘Yes we can’. That said, regardless of the final outcome of the election he still managed to, apart from that one debate that is, out-communicate Romney who to be fair is wooden at the best of times.

What might your people be thinking about you as a communicator if they were pondering how to cast their vote about you?

How attached are your people to you?

This is another of those hard to measure factors but in any positive leader-follower relationship, there is a bond of some kind, and a big part of that is forged by trust. If any election candidate promised Joe-Public the world, but the people had little trust in him or her in terms of delivering on that promise, then it would but be empty words. Trust, and the bonds that grow from it, are vital in any leadership context.

Do you think your people really trust you? Do you have some form of emotional attachment with them, and they with you? Or is it a cold house?

Do you offer fair treatment to all your people?

In the context of the presidential election, the public worry about the even-handedness of candidates, and especially so in relation to the person whom they are not going to vote for; if that opponent wins, they wonder how he or she will treat the people as a whole and not just their own constituency? Romney’s ‘47%’ quote did him a fair bit of harm during the campaign, just how much we won’t know for a few hours yet but as I write this, it’s definitely not looking good for him. His chances of winning are fading fast according to the TV pundits.

What about in a work context, can all your employees expect fair treatment from you, individually and collectively, or are some ‘more equal than others’ as far as you are concerned?

Do you represent and define the group’s identity?

The leader of any country can set the identity for a nation as a whole and if you don’t believe that just think how the US is viewed internationally now compared to when George W was around; or think how the hope that Obama engendered within the US four years ago has dissipated for many. Leaders in any context can set the tone and can make people feel proud and uplifted. Sure, charisma matters in this to a degree, but in terms of setting the tone over the longer term, or creating the group identity it’s about much more than what’s on the surface – it’s about the leader’s substance.

In a work context, the same principles apply – take any two departments or teams and they will be noticeable differences between them in terms of the culture, how they operate, and the ‘mood’ and climate – and a big part of that is a reflection of who is leading them.

If your people were thinking about the identity you create for the team, would that be a positive image they have in mind? Would what you have done so far in this regard make them tick the box in your favour?

Are you strong, active, and positive?

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter collapsed whilst out running a six-mile race, and the incident sparked fears he had suffered a heart attack. He hadn’t, and was well enough to hand out trophies at the end of the race. But the damage was done. On millions of TV sets that evening, he looked frail and weak. People want their leaders to project an image of strength and energy and sure it’s slightly different in a work context, but not much.

All research shows that employees want their bosses to be positive minded and have lots of energy and, yes, strength is important too, but not in the sense of being aggressive? There is nothing employees hate more than a manager who’s a ‘flip-flopper’ or is afraid to confront difficult people or situations. Weakness is reviled by employees.

How do you think your employees would rank you in these areas? Would you get their number 1?

Okay, today’s post undoubtedly has a dreamland quality to it – maybe it’s the fact that I’m still up at 4.30am watching the election results that’s making me lightheaded – but I think that imagining your people had to vote you in based on some proven leadership traits is a useful reflection exercise. But voting for the boss would never happen in real life, would it…? Oddly enough, you might say that employees do indeed vote when it comes to their bosses – they vote with their feet because according to a Gallup poll of more than one million employees, a bad boss or supervisor is the number one reason why people leave jobs. So, employees might not actually get to vote their boss into office, but they do get to vote themselves out of having to deal with them…

Based on your reflections against the six factors, would you top the poll?

As I finish, CNN just called the election for Obama…

Enjoy your day!

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