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These Few Words May Be the Best Lesson in Leadership You’ll Hear This Week (Warning: It’s a Politician)

Sometimes, leadership means trying to bring a little sanity to a situation.

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BY Chris Matyszczyk - 23 Aug 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.


We listen only to ourselves these days.

Or to people who happen to agree with our pure, brilliant way of thinking.

Opposites might attract, but I don't see them even talking to each other these days.

And let's not pretend here, this is affecting businesses everywhere.

Silicon Valley companies are all liberal, right? Coal, steel and chemical companies are all conservative, aren't they?

Within those companies many people are very familiar with how their co-workers think and please don't imagine that they aren't sometimes treated with prejudice aforethought.

Here, then, is someone at least trying to show leadership across a vast divide.

I apologize that it's a politician. His name is Beto O'Rourke and he's the Democrat running for the Senate in Texas against Ted Cruz.

Full disclosure: I can't bear to listen to the vast majority of politicians from either side.

The majority are like CEO's who have stayed too long in their jobs and survive on spouting self-regarding, manipulative nonsense.

Most make as much money as many CEO's, too.

Here, though, O'Rourke is asked a difficult question: How does he feel about NFL players taking a knee during the National Anthem?

He's a Democrat, so he has to believe that there's nothing wrong with players doing this.

But this is Texas, home of not exactly liberal sports team owners such as the Dallas Cowboys' Jerry Jones. And quite a few Republicans.

Especially instructive is how O'Rourke begins.

He gives his short answer, the predictable one. But then he creates an atmosphere for a longer response:

Reasonable people can disagree on this issue, let's begin there. And it makes them no less American to come down on a different conclusion on this issue, right? You can feel as the young man [who asked the question] does, you can feel as I do, you're every bit as American, all the same.

First, he tries to defuse the notion that his side is right and the other side wrong.

So many leaders still enjoy their own way -- and sending those who disagree down the highway.

Listen not merely to O'Rourke's words, but the tone in which he says them.

He's neither arrogant nor confrontational.

He tries to use concrete examples with which his audience should be familiar.

And his words feel sincere, something so painfully rare with politicians -- and, frankly, business leaders.

But there's more.

One of the most difficult parts of leadership is admitting you're wrong and making sure others are aware that you know.

O'Rourke, as he reminds his audience of America's history of peaceful, non-violent protest, adds his own apology. Speaking of why the players are doing what they're doing -- protesting against the treatment of blacks in this country -- he says:

This problem - as grave as it is - is not going to fix itself. And they're frustrated, frankly, with people like me and those in positions of public trust and power, who have been unable to resolve this or bring justice for what has been done and to stop it from continuing to happen in this country.

Some will react to his words through their partisan prisms.

It's worth, though, considering that a good leader puts their argument across without a single denigrating word toward those who might disagree.

A good leader expresses themselves, having already considered the opposite argument, and not disrespect that argument.

Ultimately, a good leader leaves you feeling, as well as thinking.

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