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Elections end, but your life’s work does not

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Donald Trump is what people want, and now he’s what the people have decided they want.

There’s a distinction between those two phrases. The former dates back at least to an article from August 2015 by Jeffrey Pfeffer that points to many of the contradictions in what people say and think they want and how they express those desires in reality.

Numerous studies show that narcissism, not modesty, and self-confident, even overconfident, self-presentation lead to leadership roles. … And even though we say we want people who don’t self-aggrandize, we secretly like the confident, overbearing people because they provide us with confidence—emotions are contagious—and also present themselves like winners. We all want to associate with success and pick those who seemingly know what they are doing.

We included a summary of Pfeffer’s article in our Aug. 11, 2015, newsletter with the subject line “Donald Trump is the leader we deserve.” And you, the readers, responded by opening that email at the highest rate in recent memory. Something in that headline connected with you, though not all for the same reasons

Now, as you may have noticed, SmartBrief on Leadership takes a slightly different approach than the Trumpian style. We’re a bit quieter, and we spend most of our energy emphasizing that leadership, communication and self-development is a never-ending journey, requiring persistent work and reflection. If we’re doing our jobs correctly, we’re a companion guide to you throughout your daily work.

The presidential election’s outcome doesn’t change that mission or its importance — and it wouldn’t have affected what we do had Clinton won (or Evan McMullin in the craziest timeline). Here’s why:

  • Elections are a zero-sum game played by narcissistic candidates who are driven by a deluded self-importance, whether in service of themselves or a grand cause. The day-to-day of business is usually not so zero-sum and rarely has to be. There are always winners and losers, but as the economic history of the world shows, modern capitalism is pretty good at creating more of the former. And no matter what the personality types in the room, deals have to be made, products need to be shipped, and business has to be earned. The conduct of business is often an act of compromise.
  • Advantages are fleeting. There is no more competitive advantage, as Rita McGrath argued in her book. Technological changes, upstarts, new markets, and plain-old luck make few industries, few jobs and few people indispensable as static objects. If you don’t keep developing yourself, you’ll struggle. If businesses stop searching for what’s next, they’ll watch the world pass them by. Need more? Look at this map of top industries in 1990 and 2013. Or the Fortune 500 in 1955 verus 2015.
  • Leading people and growing companies is about the little things. Being a leader or running a company involves a limitless number of interactions and concerted efforts at persuading, motivating and inspiring others. If you want to approach those relationships like an election — “I’m right, you’re wrong, screw off” — well, you can. But it’s probably going to hurt you at some point, especially if you don’t own the company and your name isn’t on the building. Note that even Trump used his victory speech to offer concillatory sentiments.
  • You can always be better. There are certain things that people learn to do and then never need to think about again. Basic motor skills, for instance. The value of Pi. But the skill set of a leader is about managing people and their emotions, reading situations and responding accordingly, being thoughtful about the past and present. You can become very good at all of those things, but you’ll never be finished. And if you think you have achieved perfection, all you’ve done is set yourself up for the fall.
  • Your next relationship starts when you make the effort. Jon Mertz wrote thoughtfully ahead of the election about the opportunities that await us to bridge differences, to rebuild civility, to move past bitterness. If you didn’t read it in today’s Leadership newsletter, go visit his post now.

Your journey is not complete. Keep on working. It doesn’t matter whether yesterday’s election was an opportunity realized or a dream dashed. Your work is not done — in business or in your personal life.

As Michael Hyatt writes:

  1. God has a purpose for every single person.
  2. You won’t die until that purpose is fulfilled.
  3. If you are still alive, then you haven’t completed what you were put on earth to do.
  4. If you haven’t completed what you were put on earth to do, then your very purpose hasn’t been fulfilled.
  5. If your purpose hasn’t been fulfilled, then the most important part of your life is still ahead.
  6. You have yet to make your most important contribution.

So, what’s next for you?

 

James daSilva is the longtime editor of SmartBrief’s leadership newsletter and original content, as well as newsletters for entrepreneursHR executives and various other industries. Find him at @SBLeaders or email him.