What Qualities Do You Want in Our Next President?

Source: AngelSharum. photo of the American flag waving in the wind. Public domain. Wikimedia Commons

Last week Donald Trump held his first re-election campaign rally and this week 20 Democratic candidates are debating issues from health care to climate change, jobs, education, and foreign policy. Yet as we approach the 2020 presidential election, have you stopped to consider the qualities we need in America’s next leader?

The Gallup organization has studied leadership for decades, interviewing over 20,000 senior leaders, and   asking a random sample of 10,000 people what qualities they most wanted in a leader. These qualities are: trust, compassion, stability, and hope (Rath & Conchie, 2008, p. 82).

Trust: Gallup research has found that we want to be able to trust our leaders. Leadership researchers Barry Posner and Jim Kouzes call this quality “credibility,” (Kouzes & Posner, 2011).  Corporate consultant William Bridges lists ten ways leaders can build trust that range from keeping their promises to admitting their mistakes to respecting other people’s points of view, concluding that “a single key to the building of trust” is to “tell the truth” (Bridges, 1992, p. 79).

Compassion: We want our leaders to understand and care about us, to have the best interests of the citizens and the country at heart. Research has shown that compassionate leaders are more effective and can even be transformational (Dreher, 2015; Singer & Ricard, 2019; Vianello, Galliani, & Haidt, 2010) History offers examples of compassionate leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., who combined care with transformational political power (Schwartz, 2019).  

Stability: We want to know what to expect from our leaders. As the Gallup study found, we want leaders with stable core values, who “provide a firm foundation” of “security, support, and peace,”  especially in times of challenge and change. One way leaders can  provide stability, the study found, is to be transparent in their communication (Rath & Conchie, 2008, p. 87).

Hope: Finally, we want optimistic leaders who inspire hope, who make us feel “enthusiastic about the future,” leaders with vision who can chart a path through current problems to new possibilities (Rath & Conchie, 2008, p. 89). Psychologist Shane Lopez (2013) has found that leaders can build hope by:

  • Creating excitement about the future
  • Setting new goals
  • Overcoming obstacles and demonstrating progress

Our current presidential candidates—two Republicans and 23 Democrats—have a crucial challenge in the days ahead. While it’s all too easy to fall into divisive politics, attacking each other with blaming, shaming, and name calling, this only leads to greater polarization, taking this country into what neuroscience research has called the “low road” of fear, defensiveness, and anger (LeDoux, 1996). As Gallup research has shown, what we need are leaders who can appeal to what Abraham Lincoln (1861) called the “better angels of our nature,” offering us a new vision of hope for our time.

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