Ronald L. Dufresne
is an associate professor of leadership at St. Joseph's University
At long last, what felt like the longest presidential campaign in U.S. history is finally over. No matter which side of the election we were on, though, what comes next for all of us should be the same: a commitment to becoming stronger in the very areas in which we complained the presidential candidates were weak.
It is true that the president is an outsized leader in American and global minds. But the reality is that everyday leaders in everyday walks of life have much greater everyday impact. As parents, teachers, coaches, shift supervisors, store managers, or CEOs, we can all embrace the opportunity to grow as leaders and, in doing so, improve the lives of those around us.
In his book Road to Character, New York Times columnist David Brooks notes how the practice of studying leaders as a way to grow the self as leader is an ancient practice. At the end of the presidential campaign, let us turn our focus onto ourselves and channel the energy we may have expended on critiquing the major-party candidates toward challenging ourselves to grow as leaders.
Perhaps you have been critical about Hillary Clinton's lack of transparency regarding her private email server and argued endlessly with your neighbors about how she never fully acknowledged why she used the server and if she was aware of the sensitivity of the emails she sent and received.
Now that the election is over, we should bring the same passion for transparency to ourselves. What are the ways that we, as leaders, have been withholding information from others - likely to avoid the pain that might accompany honesty? We should, in the words of the West Point Cadet Prayer, endeavor "never to be content with a half-truth when the whole can be won."
Perhaps you have been critical about Donald Trump's penchant for name-calling and belittling those who criticize him, forcefully arguing that leaders cannot speak about - nor think about - others as "pigs," "big losers," or "dummies," to name but a few.
While very few of us habitually talk about colleagues this way, the reality is that we all too often dismiss others' differing opinions as evidence of their thoughtlessness or their unreasonableness. We should channel our anger at the belittling of others toward challenging ourselves to listen to those who disagree with us and recognize they might have good reason for doing so.
Perhaps you have been critical about the air of impropriety that might surround the web of big-dollar speaking engagements, the Clinton Foundation, and State Department decisions.
Likely none of us will be paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for brief speeches or be engaged in billion-dollar foundations. But that shouldn't stop us from focusing on the degree to which we align all of our behaviors with our stated values, especially when tempted by money or prestige.
Perhaps you have been critical of Trump's hubris and his ego-driven belief that he knows better than others - especially subject-matter experts - and that he "alone can fix it." Maybe you have written on your Facebook page that you want a president who knows his or her limits and doesn't claim to know more about the military than the generals or more about the economy than the economists.
Now that the election is over, we should look within and find ways we allow our ego to inhibit learning from those who might know more than we do.
It is a well-known psychological phenomenon that we are better able to spot flaws in others than our own. After more than a year of intense flaw-spotting in our presidential candidates, many of us now have a better sense of what good and bad leadership entail. There is no doubt we could continue to dissect other leaders and note both their gifts and their flaws. I suggest we should look at our own guiding principles and our roles as leaders and apply the lessons from this election cycle.
My leadership students at St. Joseph's University have been doing just this. Throughout the fall semester, discussion about the leadership of the presidential candidates has been unavoidable, and frustration has been quick to follow. We have certainly noted the characteristics embodied by the candidates that students can see as noble and desirable. And at every turn, as we have dissected the negative attributes of the candidates, I have reminded my students of the need to hold ourselves to the same standard.
Rather than focusing on "them," I ask my students to focus on us: How can we be more transparent and understanding, with more integrity and humility? As Gandhi said, "If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change."