Last week I had a very interesting discussion with our assistant professor where we looked at the different responses Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama had on the horrible things Trump had said about women. Hillary responded to him two days after the recordings were made public in a debate with Trump. She did it in such a calm, distant matter, entirely leaving out anything personal. Saying it moved her strongly, but at the same time not showing any sign of it. Not answering as a woman, but as a presidential candidate. I felt like she was trying to be the rational opposite of Trump. Where Trump clearly was the direct emotional candidate, Clinton wanted to let the Americans know that she was the rational choice. At least that’s what it leads me to think.
Right after that we watched the video of how Michelle Obama responded. Two women couldn’t have been further apart in the way they presented themselves. Michelle was emotional to the max. You saw tears in her eyes and couldn’t make out of they were of anger or sadness. I’m guessing both. Michelle used strong words and stood there as a woman and as a mother. She stated that she did not want young women to be exposed to this kind of behavior of these words from any man, let alone the president’s candidate. She was as candid as could be. She was true to herself, being the mom and and mother of girls. Needless to say I was with Michelle.
Now I do realize these two women have a totally different agenda when appearing on television. Hillary was running for president. Michelle was the first lady on her way out of the White House. Clearly that may have an effect on things. But should it? I think not. And at the same time I do understand that it is what happens… It does matter whether or not you have a reputation to build or keep and it does matter what message you want to send across to the public.
For me it relates to discussions we had about authenticity and charisma. We have seen over the course how this can all be orchestrated. Clearly most of us feel that authenticity is a “thing” these days. It’s high on our agenda. We want people to be real. We want them to be open and vulnerable. But do we really? I feel that’s what we are trying to fool ourselves in believing. I feel in fact we want to see the people the way we want to see them. We want to see people in power do what we would have wanted to do, were we in that position. We want to see people succeed. We want to look up to people that we can relate to. I have learned now from our readings that many people love to follow Kim Kardashian, because she is so successful. I’m sure her popularity would drop, if she did decide to post the ugly first pictures of herself, instead of the beautiful nineteenth. And if all her successful business initiatives started to fail one by one, we might not be so impressed, right?
We decide what makes Kim Kardeshian, Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama our heroes. That is as a matter of speaking, because as Boorstin says, we create celebrities, not heroes. These three ladies can do whatever suits them. If the public doesn’t embrace their actions they are nothing. Or as Max Weber puts it: ”What is alone important is how the individual is actually regarded by those subject to charismatic authority, by his ‘followers’ or ‘disciples’”. We do not really want to see the truth, because that might be ugly and weak. More than ever do we want to see our ‘heroes’ shine on what Boorstin calls pseudo-events. We want our human pseudo-events.
When thinking about the thin line between how much real and pseudo-real we want to see I read a great article by Scott Barry Kaufman about humane and human leadership. He says that we are lacking that currently. He states: “ To be fully human means becoming what you truly are, in all of your complexities and contradictions. What would happen if, as a nation, we presented ourselves to the world openly, acceptingly, and honestly? What would be the result?” He then refers to a thought experiment that humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers published in 1960, of which I pick a few to get us thinking about how true we want things to be.
We make many mistakes and are often inconsistent. We are deeply frightened by a view of life different from our own. We have some very selfish foreign interests. We have complex and contradictory feelings toward the freedom and independence and self-determination of individuals and countries. And although we value, respect, and admire the dignity and worth of each individual, when we are frightened, we move away from this direction.
Now I don’t know about you, but I can fully understand that our world leaders would need to think twice before embracing this humane and human leadership philosophy. But hey, the current US president is actually engaging in some of these principles. Trump makes mistakes, is inconsistent, selfish when it comes to foreign interests and freedom. And many hate him for it. BUT… According to Rogers there are some probable outcomes that do in fact sound very positive. At least to me they do.
Doing the above, would make us much more comfortable, because we would have nothing to hide. It would help us focus on the problems at hand, rather than spending our energies to prove our own greatness. We could use all of our creative imagination in solving the problem, rather than in defending ourselves. We could freely change and grow in our leadership position, because we would not be bound by rigid concepts of what we have been, must be or ought to be. We would find that we were much less feared, because others would be less inclined to suspect what lies behind the facade. We would, by our own openness, tend to bring forth openness and realism on the par of others. And more. Kaufman’s conclusion is that this would result in a more human world.
As a thought experiment anno 2017, do you think maybe there are human leadership lessons we could learn from Trump? I think so. Even though I fully disagree with what he says, I have come to feel stronger over the period of this class that true authenticity might be painful and uncomfortable at times, but it is as honest and real as it gets. So are we ready for that or do we in fact take on the hypocrite t-shirt and say we want true authenticity where we mean orchestrated authenticity?
I am currently at Harvard in Boston for a summer course in Leadership. For this course I write blogs to deepen my learnings from our readings and discussions. To give those who are interested an insight in my students life and in my leadership questions and insights I share my class blogs here. When they are impossible to understand when you weren’t in class or participating in the discussion I will of course limit myself to fragments or I will rewrite slightly for them to still make sense.