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A Pox on Both Houses

The phrase, "A pox (plague) on both houses," comes from the famous Shakespeare play, Romeo and Juliet. Mercurtio utters these words to curse both the Montagues and Capulets, as he blames both families for the tragedies that occur in the play. 

I thought this was an appropriate title for this blog edition. As you can see from the picture above, there are two signs, both indicating that each way, is the wrong way!

I will never make this blog post about politics. But given who, for sure, are going to be the two candidates for President this year, Joe Biden and Donald Trump, I thought about making this about leadership, or the lack thereof. I don't really care what side of the aisle politically you fall on. We all have our choices on which party, if any, we are supporting, and what are the policies of either candidate, that we support. But I argue that from a pure leadership perspective, both Biden and Trump share one common trait. They are lousy leaders. Not people you want to emulate from a leadership perspective. Here are the traits that I see in both that lead me to say this:

  • Arrogance - Both men are, in my humble opinion, are arrogant. Both have this air of their inflated sense of self-importance. When Biden or Trump deal with the press for instance, (and trust me, I am not a big fan,) there is an air of arrogance. "I know more than you and your questions are stupid (and they may well be.) But true leaders don't act superior in front of others. Servant leadership and humility, are lost on both men. You can tell it by their facial expressions, their derisive manner towards people they look down upon, their aura of self-importance e.g., "I am the smartest guy in the room."

  • Dehumanizing and Labeling Others - Biden loves to continuously talk about "MAGA this and MAGA that." Trump calls people names, e.g. "Sleepy Joe," Ron Desantimonious" etc. This is definitely NOT leadership. It is juvenile and shows the lack of emotional intelligence/self-awareness that great leaders have. When Biden derides anyone who wears a MAGA hat, and basically characterizes them as ultra right extremists, he does disservice to a large section of the US population. There are many Americans who truly believe America is going off the rails, and needs a course correction. They believe America IS the greatest country on earth. They are not the ones who stormed the Capitol Building or, try to bomb abortion clinics. They are just concerned citizens. How do you build consensus if you denigrate people like this. Trump, on the other hand, is so juvenile as to make names up for people. Okay, I guess it was funny in the third grade, but for Pete's sake, can you just grow up! Stop with the name calling. That makes you no better than your opponent, Biden. It makes you the same and it continues to divide our country.

  • Never admitting to making mistakes - Now this is a BIG one. Real leaders have the EQ and the humility to admit when they are wrong, and learn from those mistakes to become better leaders. Unfortunately, neither Biden nor Trump possess this ability. When Biden speaks, it is always about how his administration has done more for this, that, and the other than "any other administration in history." Even in the face of glaring missteps like the disastrous withdrawal out of Afghanistan, the border crisis etc., Biden will never admit that he and his administration have made mistakes. He and his team brush aside legitimate criticisms, caveat everything and blame everyone else for any missteps on their part. Biden blames the border crisis on Trump and past administrations when HE was a part of the Obama administration. He likes to quote Truman and "The Buck Stops Here," but it never does with him. It is never, ever his fault. Same with Trump. Everything they did in his administration was perfect. No mistakes. But with Trump, he can never admit when his behavior is at the root of a lot of his problems. Had he governed without calling people names, being an attack dog all the time, and not representing the office of the President the way it should be, he might still be in office. People voted for him because they believed in his message of America first. Law and Order. Supporting the Troops. Less Taxes. Less Regulation and I could go on and on. This rang a bell with the American people. But in the four years of his tenure, his arrogance and as with Biden "I know better than anyone else" attitude, turned off a huge part of the citizenry who once voted for him. He lost the election because of him. Not fraud, not inaccurate vote counting, not some vast left wing conspiracy. He lost because of him. But he will never admit it. Because, like Biden, he doesn't make mistakes. I don't know about you, but I have made my share of mistakes in my government and business careers. It isn't pleasant to admit to mistakes, to sometimes eating crow. But real leaders own up to it, say "I'm sorry," and move on and hopefully learn from the mistakes. Not these two prima donnas. 

  • Picking the Wrong Team. Many of you know that I am a huge fan of Abraham Lincoln and his leadership style. He wasn't perfect. No one is. But he was humble, decisive, listened and took advice willingly. In Doris Kearns Goodwin's famous book "Team of Rivals," she describes how Lincoln, with a country in a Civil War, with his own party not fully supporting him or thinking he could do the job of President, put together, I would argue, the most unusual and effective cabinet in US history. He brought on three people to be in his cabinet who had previously run against him in the elections. None of these men, who Lincoln appointed to be Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, and Attorney General, had any great love or feeling for Lincoln. But Lincoln, in his genius, knew first, that these men had the political and intellectual chops that he needed to help him govern the war effort. He put his ego aside, knew he couldn't do it alone, and brought on his "team of rivals." Do you think for a minute, that either Biden or Trump would even consider something like this? Of course not. Both are surrounded by like minded political minds who have nothing but derision for "the other side." Leaders must have people on their teams who don't think like you do. Who don't act like you do. Who are willing to speak truth to power. You may not even like them. But you, as a leader, know they bring value to the team due to their expertise and willingness to say "hey boss, you're going down the wrong path." When you, like Biden and Trump, are unwilling to listen to the other side, let alone unwilling to bring on people with a different perspective than yours, you are not practicing effective leadership. 

  • Losing sight of the big picture - Both Biden and Trump have lost sight of the "big picture." The big picture isn't winning political battles for your party. Nor is it just catering to your base. In this instance, the far left and the far right. Leaders are supposed to be strategic thinkers. They are supposed to develop strategies that make their particular enterprises more effective.. Meaning returning as much ROI as possible. At Microsoft Global Security, we had yearly strategic goals. We ensured that it wasn't just a "Mike Howard" strategic goal. The goals we came up with were based on input from the troops. From the various groups within Global Security providing my leadership team and me, input as to their goals for the year. The final strategic goals then, were inclusive and ultimately, we, as an org, were on the same page. Not the case here with Biden and Trump. From my optic, their clear strategic goal is to "bring our country together." But they do just the opposite. They divide us more than unite us. Through their incendiary rhetoric, labeling of the other side and only catering to their party and base, they neglect the vast majority of US citizens who are neither far left or far right. Most of us are somewhere in the "middle" be it center left or center right. The talking heads on TV would make you think otherwise given they contribute more to our problems as a country than they do solutions (but hey, that is for another blog post!) Ironically, it was Bill Clinton who was the last President to move from the far left to govern in the middle during his second turn. And it was a successful four years. Trump and Biden are myopic thinkers, not strategic. As Denzel Washington said in "Training Day," it's chess not checkers. Biden and Trump are playing checkers when they should be playing chess and looking at the long game. The game to win for all of us, not just some of usI could go on and on but this blog post is longer than my usual ones :)

My point here is that both Biden and Trump are not leaders. In any way, shape or form. The irony is not lost here. They are diametrically opposed politically. But they share the unfortunate characteristics of bad leaders. They don't listen. They can't take any criticism or constructive feedback without hitting back. They are arrogant - the antithesis of servant leadership. They lose sight of the big picture and concentrate on their petty squabbling at the micro level. They forget who they are supposed to be serving. Not their donors. Not their parties. It's us. It's the people. The vast majority of whom only want to have decent jobs, homes, safety, food on the table and security for our families. 

Most Americans are fed up with the pettiness and childishness displayed not only with these two so-called leaders, but with our Congress and political leadership around the country. Oh, would it be nice if both Biden and Trump took some time to read "Team of Rivals" and learn from it. But, I'm not holding my breath that this will happen anytime soon, 

But you, as leaders, can take a lesson from both of these men. Don't emulate them. Leadership, unfortunately, is lost on them. Keep humble. Keep learning. Keep on growing. Don't be afraid to admit mistakes - learn from them. Learn to take criticism. Have a thick skin. Surround yourself with people that will push you, even tell you that you're wrong because you just might be. I can't say that following these traits will propel you to the presidency. Then again, maybe that's a good thing!

Till next time!

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