There is an aspect of leadership that has clearly come out following the Trump election: a leader sets the standards of its followers. This is especially true when the leader is imposed, either through election or unilateral decision – an elected president or a company director for example.
These leaders are almost always imposed on the majority. Even in a democracy, it is rare that the president is truly elected by the absolute majority of the population if, for example, you account for absenteeism, the 'white vote', and votes by default. And the consequence is that in order to maintain their authority, most will own their role through the use of power and the absence of alternative also means most people follow them by default.
The issue with the use of power is that respect is not earned but imposed. If this leader’s ethics are limited and they use their power impulsively, their greatest achievement is setting a low standard for the entire group. The rise of openly xenophobic groups in America in the past year is a good example, or Brexit leaders in the first hour, jumping ship when the tempest approaches, leading the country to fear the consequence of Brexit and organisations to consider leaving Britain, rather than prepare for post-Brexit wisely to build a brighter future. Monkey see… Monkey do.
Leaders that have had the opposite effect are those, often called “social leaders”, that are recognised not for their power or their status but for their actions and their ability to inspire others to better themselves and bring about positive change. Their status is earned and not enforced and can disappear if the trust is broken. The social leader is therefore not followed by default but by choice and this is where their greatest strength lies.
A social leader can by anyone: an elected representative that has earned trust; an inspiring company director; a television star denouncing sexual harassment; one of your colleague who is always keen to help and brings positivity to the team, etc.
The social leader’s influence can be negative as well as positive, but what is observable through history is that the ones who have inspired positive change, and respect are those whose influence last beyond their own time, are amongst the most famous. Examples such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Henry Ford (to some extent), Che Guevara (for some) or most famously Nelson Mandela.
The leader who sets the standard through enforced power lowers it, but through choice, inspiration and example, raises it. The decision on which path to take, whether we are leaders of followers, is ours. Monkey see… Human thinks.
Do Trump’s dehumanizing views trickle down? The fact that the president, who has enormous power to make life better or worse for immigrant communities, has dehumanizing views is disquieting enough. But psychological research suggests that Trump’s rhetoric also encourages people who already have prejudicial views to act on those views. “I don’t think Trump created new prejudices in people — not that quickly and not that broadly. What he did do is change people’s perceptions about what is okay and what is not okay,” University of Kansas psychologist Chris Crandall said in a 2017 interview.