What can we learn from the US elections?

Many of us have been glued or at least distracted by the US elections as it felt like a last minute “squeaky bum” time turning into a slow motion marathon for Biden to reach and overtake the number of electoral votes needed. The US may or may not be the most powerful country anymore, China could dispute that. However, with Trump in charge every outrage he tweeted felt like a butterfly creating waves across the world.

There are lots of things we can learn from the US elections, from the complexity of the electoral process to the valiant courage of municipalities in upholding the integrity of said process.

But there are similarities between the Trump — Biden contest that albeit not as extreme, sometimes do play out in our organisations. We do have people that depend on a charismatic leader to direct them and give them purpose. Often this form of leadership was the only one recognised. We do also have people who are in “fight or flight” mode when they become anxious and need an enemy to complain about — whether it’s the corporate centre, central government or inspectors — or they escape and just ignore the processes. Then, you have people who are drawn into calls to action for collaboration around a wider mission, whether that’s formal calls to take part in boards or project teams, or more informal when people want to tackle an issue and don’t know how to do it. This played out during the pandemic.

You could argue that many Trump supporters depended on him to save them from an America they no longer could control and wanted a variety of scapegoats to blame for more systemic failings in the world around them. You could say that Biden rallied people around his vision and surfed the wave of movements like “Me Too” or “Black Lives Matter” to win the election. But he needed Trump as an enemy to rally a patchwork of people who might not have voted for him for his policies, but more for his opposition to the values that Trump stood for. Trump too built a coalition of people from free market affluent conservatives who wanted low corporate taxes to working class people who wanted protectionism and including communities of colour.

In every organisation, there can be elements of people being more defensive and more inclusive, however you need leaders who can role model those inclusive behaviours, values that are embedded into the activities and processes the organisation develops and regular stories that show how people are embodying these values to make these feel natural. In the case of the US under Trump, racism, homophobia and sexism was made to feel natural. Those behaviours won’t go away under Biden, but hopefully the values of solidarity, diversity and cohesion will win over for the next four years. And you can see that too below the radar with politicians being elected that are more diverse.



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Head of Policy Design, Scrutiny & Partnerships @newhamlondon #localgov Co-founder of #systemschange & #servicedesign progs. inspired by @cescaalbanese