Gut Check: Do You Really Understand the Sentiments of the People You Lead?

Vince Molinaro, Ph.D. Blog

Astonishing. There doesn’t seem to be any other word to describe Donald Trump’s historic win in last night’s presidential election.

He wasn’t supposed to win. Not according to the political pundits, pollsters and forecasters. With all their research and big data analytics, they got it wrong. Completely wrong.

To me the really interesting story here is not so much that he won in the way that he did, but rather that no one saw it coming in this way.

But it’s not the first time this has happened this year.

Essentially the same thing happened with two other significant leadership stories.

No one saw the Brexit vote coming in as it did. Nor did people think that Colombians would vote against peace with the FARC.

So what’s going on here?

As I stayed up to watch last night’s coverage, and as it became clear that Donald Trump would be the US President, analysts began to admit that he did a better job of addressing the angst of the majority of Americans. He had a simple message that he kept repeating from his very first day on the campaign trail; the status quo wasn’t working, it was time to ‘Make America Great Again.’

His setbacks, and there were many, didn’t seem to deter the fact that Americans felt he had a finger on the pulse of how they were feeling about things. This is something that Hillary Clinton and the Democrats missed, and they paid the price for it.

And here’s the leadership lesson for all of us. To what extent do you really understand the people you lead?

Do you really appreciate and understand what’s on the minds and in the hearts of your employees?

Are you able to demonstrate that understanding in a empathic manner?

Like political parties, companies have “big data” they rely on such as employee engagement surveys. Most do a great job of letting leaders know how employees are feeling about a number of organizational and cultural issues.

But it’s important to remember that data only provides a slice of employee perceptions and attitudes. As a leader, you must dig deeper. You need to truly connect with the people you lead to understand what they are experiencing.

In the wake of this historic electoral result, there is an important gut check question all leaders should be asking themselves this morning: do you really understand the sentiments of the people you lead?

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