We are who we lead. If the Republican Party doesn't want to be considered the party of racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny, and bigotry, it must stop catering to those who embrace those values.
I have opinions about social policies and politics; opinions that I work hard to inform with fact and data. I consider myself to be informed about these things, but not an expert.
When it comes to leadership, however, I am an expert. I have spent 30 years studying leadership; assessing, improving and refining my own leadership skills; cultivating leadership skills among my employees; and advising companies and individuals on the growth of their leadership talent.
When business owners call on me to solve a sticky problem, they are rarely asking me to help them fix their leadership style. Yet leadership problems are often at the heart of business deficiencies. When I discover that to be the case, one of the first questions I ask people to consider is, “Who is choosing to follow you?”
This can be a tricky question. The fact that you are the boss means that most employees will do what you want most of the time. That’s called obedience, or respect for the chain-of-command, which is very different from making a conscious choice to follow. So how do you know if someone is following you versus simply obeying you? You know because of the energy, enthusiasm, and accountability that people bring to their work. You see, one of the most important things leaders do is to inspire others to join them in pursuit of a shared goal. Leaders ignite the small fires of passion that turn into shared accountability and motivation. Really strong leaders inspire that devotion not to themselves, but to a cause or to an organization.
It is not possible to make someone follow you. You can make someone obey you, if you have the right leverage – like a paycheck. This is why the first measure of a leader is not in what they do, but in the quality and the actions of those who choose to follow them
So I ask the question, “Who follows you?” If nobody follows you, if you are surrounded by people who do the minimum necessary to succeed, if your employees do not step up to the level of motivation or contribution you want from them, then you are functioning as a boss, not as a leader. This is a scenario I regularly encounter. On occasion however, I encounter a slightly darker reality. I see a boss who does have some followers, but when I assess the character, behavior, and motivations of the people who choose to follow them, I question the ethics, the kindness, or the integrity of those followers. Which makes me question the leader.
We are who we lead.
We draw to us the people attracted to what we represent. The people who choose to follow us choose to do so because they see in us a useful path to an outcome that is meaningful to them. We can see this at the simplest levels of human organization; for example, in a high school cafeteria. Each group of students will have a natural leader. That leader may be vocal or quiet, may or may not be conscious of their influence as a leader, may or may not be particularly interested in having followers. Because followers choose leaders, not vice versa. The angriest child in the school is just as likely to have a following as the class president or star football player is likely to have a following.
One trait shared among great leaders is a commitment to introspection. Having followers is very ego-boosting, even to those who are not particularly ego-driven. Great leaders ask the question, "what is it that I am projecting that draws people to me? Is it noble, is it worthy, is it something that will benefit others?" When great leaders see undesirable traits or behaviors emerging among their followers, they look to themselves first to see how their own behaviors and choices contributed to their followers believing that those things were okay. Are there leaders who effectively lead followers to terrible ends? Sure there are. Caligula, Stalin, Hitler, and Hugo Chavez were all powerful leaders. But we won't refer to them as "great," because terrible is never great.
So you can judge leaders by the qualities and behaviors of their followers. I teach this every day in business. I help business owners understand that they must transform themselves into effective leaders if they want to inspire motivation beyond simply collecting a paycheck. I help business owners and managers recognize when it is their own leadership contributing to dysfuntion within the organization.
We are who we lead.
And it is for these reasons that I am comfortable with stating that the Republican Party is the party of racism. This shouldn’t be too surprising, since the modern Republican Party was largely formed based on racism. Today’s Republican party is not the party of Lincoln. It is the party of what came after. The party of Jim Crow, the party of segregated schools, the party of white flight. And this shows up very clearly in its followers, from indifferent whites who choose not to reflect on how racism affects our country, to closet racists who use coded language when expressing their racism, to white supremacy groups who don’t even bother to hide it. It’s not that there are no racists who are also Democrats. It’s that the Democratic Party refuses to cater to them. There are no skinheads rallying for Democratic Party candidates.
We are who we lead.
The Republican Party has become the party of anti-Semitism. It’s not even relevant that Donald Trump has Jewish grandchildren. What matters is that a noteworthy subset of Donald Trump’s followers are anti-Semitic, or simply don’t care if there are anti-Semites among them. It matters that Trump refused to even mention Jews on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and the Republican Party was noticeably silent about it. Remember, the leader doesn’t choose the followers, the followers choose the leader based on something the leader is projecting that inspires them to follow. So clearly, something inspires anti-Semitism. And why do I lay this responsibility for anti-Semitism at the feet of the Republican Party, and not simply at the feet of Donald Trump? Because the party can do something about this, and they have chosen not to. Are there anti-Semites among the Democratic Party followers? Unfortunately, yes there are. But when anti-Semitism rears its ugly head in the Democratic Party, the party is pretty effective at policing itself.
We are who we lead.
The Republican Party is the party of misogyny. Step away from the abortion issue for a moment. For one-issue voters, this is often the one issue that matters.
Instead, look at the ardent followers of the Republican Party who believe that there is such a thing as legitimate rape versus illegitimate rape, who push bills that refer to women as merely hosts of new life, repeatedly reject legislation that supports equal pay for women, who call out the Girl Scouts as a radical organization because they encourage young women to be informed and independent, and who work diligently to defund Planned Parenthood, the primary provider of health care to women who live under the poverty level (the vast majority of Planned Parenthood services are not abortion-related). This is a tricky issue, because undoubtedly there was a measure of misogyny at the heart of people who would otherwise have voted Democratic in the last election. So while the Democratic Party does not put forth the kind of legislation – or rhetoric – that is anti-women, it is in a fight for its soul after the recent election. I’ll be watching closely to see how the party proceeds from here. It’s recent support for women’s marches across the country tells us the Democratic Party embraces its role as a force for women's rights.
We are who we lead.
The Republican Party promotes selfishness. A large percentage of their followers detest regulation, social services, higher minimum wages, and more equal distribution of wealth, while supporting tax breaks for the wealthy. The Republican Party is allowing the current president to reap enormous personal financial gains as a benefit of holding that office. That they have not stepped in to stop this activity speaks volumes. Trump’s historically low approval ratings demonstrate that any approval he does enjoy comes almost entirely from the Republican Party faithful. Do Democrats abuse power? Definitely. Abuse of power tends to be a human problem more than a party problem. But at all levels of the Republican Party membership, the overwhelming message is Me! Me! Me!.
We are who we lead.
The Republican Party is anti-gay. Nearly all opposition to equal rights or equal marriage for LGBTQ citizens comes from the Republican Party membership. And all contemporary legislation designed to discriminate against LGBTQ citizens comes from the Republican Party. In contrast, support for the LGBTQ citizenry is built into the Democratic Party platform, and it is one of the elements that draws followers to the party.
None of the issues I’ve mentioned here may bother you. It’s entirely possible that you were uncomfortable with a Black man being president, that you think the Jews make too much noise about the holocaust, that your own cultural forbears were slaves at some point in history, that you hate paying taxes for people on welfare, that you think women don’t need equal pay legislation, that you believe trickle-down economics works, that you believe raising the minimum wage will damage the economy, or that you think regulation is terrible for business. I don’t intend to argue the merit of any of these points with you.
All I am saying is, that if those are your beliefs, then you are more than likely Republican.
And we are who we lead.