The Best Kept Secret of Highly Effective Leaders (and Presidents)

Photo by Mathus Ferrero
Photo by Mathus Ferrero
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The Problem:
 Leaders sometimes find themselves leading a divided organization or country.
The Science: There is one skill that can help any organization thrive.
The Solution: If a leader is compassionate, s/he can unite people and move forward effectively.

President-elect Trump wrote in The Midas Touch “Unite to win. Divide to conquer.” He conquered the Electoral College to become President by dividing Americans (he lost the popular vote by nearly 2.9 million votes), but to win America he must unite them. In short, he has a clear want and an even clearer need: He wants to “make America great again” but he needs for Americans to unite. There’s one type of act that can do both: compassion.

Compassion—as recent studies in fields ranging from neuroscience to political-economics have proven—helps to not only unite people but also improve their levels of success. America’s strength and “greatness” are derived from our historic efforts “to form a more perfect union” and our successes at becoming such a “union” have increased every time we widened our circle of compassion (i.e., the abolition of slavery undeniably made our country stronger).

An inauguration speech emphasizing compassion by President-elect Trump in both words and proposed policies would help our country succeed in several ways:

1. Unite a divided country

A lot of television air time and columns in newspapers have been devoted to highlighting the differences and divisions between Americans, especially between Democrats and Republicans, during the 2016 election (I am not going to rehash any of it here). However, researchers from the Pew Research Center found a shared value that Clinton and Trump supporters agree is important to follow: compassion. The survey found that 58% of Trump and 75% of Clinton followers agreed with the statement: “Compassion and helping others are my core values.” An inaugural speech with compassion at its core would not only reflect a commonly held belief but sound a call to unite all Americans that even Trump’s critics couldn’t ignore.

2. Stem the tide of hate crimes

The month between the presidential election and Christmas was one filled with acts of hate. A significant portion of America has seemingly learned to hate again. The Southern Poverty Law Center tracked over 1,000 hate incidents between November 9 and December 12, 2016, which is higher than what the group usually reports in a six-month time period. In terms of annual numbers, reports of hate crimes documented by the Federal Bureau of Investigation rose 6.7% from 2014-2015. Because many of our fellow Americans who initiated most of the hate crimes have said that they were inspired by the presidential campaign, President-elect Trump has an opportunity to roll back the wave of hate by inspiring compassion through his inaugural address.

3. Strengthen our economic position and allies in international trade

You get success as a byproduct of helping others succeed when you follow compassion. And as Johan Norberg, senior fellow at the Cato Institute and the European Centre for International Political Economy, summarizes in his new book Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future, “In this era of globalization, the most important factor behind a country’s success is the success of other countries.” If you want to achieve success in anything, such as to “make America great again,” then compassion should be at the heart of everything that you do.

4. Secure our domestic strength.

If we decrease compassion between each other, we weaken the United States by creating a more “imperfect” union. This shouldn’t come as any surprise for William Durant showed in “Why Rome Fell” that great powers collapse only when they weaken themselves: “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself within.” One way to guarantee that America does not internally destroy itself is if its citizens and leaders practice compassion.

For those who believe that following compassion is naive, soft, and weak, consider Lao-Tzu’s observation about the interaction between two of nature’s most basic elements: “Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard…what is soft is strong.” Compassion always wins.

America is a country that can be won but it’s not a country that can be conquered, unless we let division weaken us. The United States is strong when Americans and their leaders act as compassionate achievers. President-elect Trump can “unite to win” if he leads with compassion.

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Christopher Kukk

Christopher Kukk

Christopher L. Kukk, Ph.D., is author of The Compassionate Achiever: How Helping Others Fuels Success (HarperOne; March 2017) and professor of political science at Western Connecticut State University.
Christopher Kukk

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