Leadership and Influence

A commentary on how much leaders empower their followers

A February 12, 2020 Washington Post article titled, Trump’s rhetoric has changed the way hundreds of kids are bullied in classrooms, caught my attention. It reported:

2016 online survey of over 10,000 kindergarten through 12th-grade educators by the Southern Poverty Law Center found that more than 2,500 “described specific incidents of bigotry and harassment that can be directly traced to election rhetoric,” although the overwhelming majority never made the news. In 476 cases, offenders used the phrase “build the wall.” In 672, they mentioned deportation.

The news article sites examples such as:

Two kindergartners in Utah told a Latino boy that President Trump would send him back to Mexico, and teenagers in Maine sneered “Ban Muslims” at a classmate wearing a hijab. In Tennessee, a group of middle-schoolers linked arms, imitating the president’s proposed border wall as they refused to let nonwhite students pass. In Ohio, another group of middle-schoolers surrounded a mixed-race sixth-grader and, as she confided to her mother, told the girl: “This is Trump country.”

In 2017, the LGBTQ-rights organization Human Rights Campaign reported on a new survey of more than 50,000 young people ages 13-18 “revealing the deeply damaging fallout the November [2016] election had on youth across the United States.” The survey included respondents representing a diversity in gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity and religious background. Seventy percent of those surveyed reported witnessing bullying, hate messages or harassment during or since the November election. Of those who witnessed such behaviour, 79% said it occurred more frequently following the start of the campaign.

I wondered how much my country is affected by this constant rhetoric we hear from our news media. The late and former Canadian Prime Minster, Pierre Trudeau, once said about the United States, “Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.” Canada is very much influenced by the United States, and not always in a good way.

CBC News did a series examining the impact of peer-on-peer violence on students and parents. Its October 29, 2019 article,  ‘I get nightmares’: How racial violence in high schools is taking a mental toll on students,  says:

In a first-of-its-kind survey commissioned by the CBC with 4,000 youths aged 14 to 21, more than half of young people that identified as visible minorities say they’ve been subjected to racist names or comments. One in eight said it happened more than five times. The survey also revealed that 41 per cent of boys reported being physically assaulted in high school, and 21 per cent have been threatened with a weapon — a significantly higher percentage than girls.

Although it was not stated, or even implied, I can only speculate that many of the racist bullies where inspired by rhetoric heard by political leaders in Canada, and especially the U.S. How can young impressionable minds not be influenced by the constant racist and xenophobic rhetoric coming from a person touted as the most powerful leader of the free world? Leaders empower and inspire people and the current resident of the White House is empowering children to bully. I am keenly aware after teaching for 35 years how much power my words had and how those words influenced my students. Teachers are leaders, and any leader empowers their followers.

Leaderonomics is a leadership development organization based in Malaysia that began with the purpose of transforming nations through leadership. Its article, Leadership Is Influence, defines influence “as the ability to move others into action.” It goes on to say, “Whenever we can change someone’s thought process and convince them to pursue a course of action, we have exercised influence, hence demonstrated leadership. The heart of strategic influencing is to gain willing cooperation instead of mere compliance.”

When I observe our world leaders, many of them use influence to gain compliance as opposed to cooperation. The recent Senate Impeachment hearings were more about complying with their political party as opposed to cooperating to determine if the U.S. president did indeed commit a crime.

An article titled, Influence and Leadership, says:

Leaders lead by mobilizing people around a compelling vision of the future, by inspiring them to follow in the leader’s footsteps…Leaders lead by modeling ways of thinking or acting…The best leaders are teachers, mentors, and role models–and they accomplish the vast majority of their work through influence, not authority.

Leaders should inspire us to be the best we can, yet I see many world leaders modelling selfish and bullying behaviours. What our world is sadly lacking is leaders who inspire people to create a better world. The Born This Way Foundation was created to build a future that supports the wellness of young people through an evidence-based approach that is fiercely kind, compassionate, accepting, and inclusive. I share their vision. I wish to do my part in creating a world that is kind, compassionate, accepting, and inclusive for everyone regardless of age.

Mohandas Gandhi once said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Leaders can inspire us to do that. The Dalai Lama said, “I believe that individuals can make a difference in society. Since periods of change such as the present one come so rarely in human history, it is up to each of us to make the best use of our time to help create a happier world” John F. Kennedy said, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.” We can all do our part in creating a better world, and as I’ve said in some of my previous posts, there is a very simple solution to bullying, and that is following the Golden Rule, which says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  It’s a rule that is recorded in many world religions and philosophies (see Wikipedia).