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'Enemy-based' Leadership is Destroying Us

It's an upgrade, from 'Advanced Conservative Studies' to 'Advanced Anti-leftist Studies'

Rush Limbaugh on changing his mantra to ‘anti’

In an age of ‘anti’ – we become defined by the enemies we decide to hate. We have an enemy-based President, elected by enemy-based supporters, opposed by enemy-based adversaries, reported-on by an enemy-based, drama-driven media, in an increasingly enemy-based society. Enemy-based means being more focused on and animated by who and what we oppose rather than what we support. It leads to great certitude about who and what to hate; but murkiness and inattention regarding what we are for and whom to embrace. Enemy-based leadership is in the business of destruction.

It is not just Rush Limbaugh who has thrown in the towel and decided to go all in on ‘anti.’ MSNBC leans left, FOX leans right but in recent months CNN has lost its balance and much credibility by viewing virtually all news through an anti-Trump lens. Their over-the-top response to his over-the-top leadership style unwittingly props him (and them) up. Hate often does that – props up not-so-worthy enemies.

The momentum of our growing divide and disdain is ominous. Pew reported last week on 10 key “political values” questions, ranging from government regulations to benefits for the poor to racial discrimination – the same questions it has been asking since 1994. In 1994 the average gap between Democrats and Republicans was 15 points. Today it is 36 points. Today 44 percent of Democrats and 45 percent of Republicans say they have a “very unfavorable” opinion of the other party. In 1994, fewer than 20 percent in each party had a very unfavorable view of the other party. Today 50 percent of Republicans and 33 percent of Democrats say they would be unhappy if their child married a member of the other party compared to 4-5 percent in the 60s. Imagine if these numbers were to jump another 20 percentage points in the next two decades. When do we reach the point of no-return? Have we reached it already?

The risks of a $20 trillion deficit, climate change, or terrorism pale in comparison to that of an “un-civil” internal war driven by the hate and intolerance of hyper-aggrieved enemies.

The issue of hate is part of what makes the massacre in Las Vegas hard to fathom. We see the results of abject hate and rage and yet have not been able to identify their source. Perhaps at some point the source of unmitigated hate no longer matters. Hate eventually takes on a life of its own that separates from its cause. Hate becomes its own all-consuming purpose. In this latest horror it is more convenient to focus on hotel security or guns which few us of influence and ignore the hate to which we are all potential contributors.

Maybe this hate-filled downward spiral is why you are one of the many who has attempted to stop watching the news or visiting Facebook or talking about partisan topics. President Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, White Supremacists, Black-Lives-Matter, Freedom Caucus, Antifa, Resist, pro guns/anti guns, pro-life/pro-choice – all have become placeholders for gridlock and warfare that continue to devolve into more hate. It is not just between the polar opposites. Some of the greatest vitriol is reserved for those within political parties or religious groups that are ideologically or theologically very similar. Trump’s White House looks like a perpetual circular firing squad.

This animus has bled into everything: professional sports, late-night TV comedians, Hollywood award shows, consumer products, speakers at universities and just about everywhere else. And debates about the moral equivalence of the sins or hypocrisy of one group compared to another obscure the bigger problem: immoral equivalence of opponents who have become consumed by whom they hate. When do we reach “peak hate?”

Taking the ‘Rant’ Out of Intolerant

We all face varying levels of intolerance and condescension based on black/white, urban/rural, male/female, young/old, conservative/progressive. However, as my friend Mike says, “When the sh*t hits the fan, it is not evenly distributed.” The question is: How do we address intolerance without becoming what we hate – driven by fear and disdain, stereotyping whole-large-groups and making the infliction of maximum damage our primary purpose? Being intolerant of those we see as intolerant may feel right but it just adds to the intolerance and increases the pain. We are not punished for our hate but by our hate.

So much of what today’s leaders offer around vision and purpose is really just rant-filled opposition that lacks a real proposition. In today’s social-media driven world, the leaders with the biggest following – are often those who most powerfully tapped our hurt and our hate. The rewards of money, fame and power to politicians and media for outspoken, enemy-based leadership has become systemic – and unsustainable. ‘Anti’ has become lazy-man’s leadership. Meanwhile our country heads for divorce.

Relational Leadership: Constructors

It is time for leaders to get out of the relationship destruction business. Which means, we must decide what kind of leadership we want from others and what kind of leaders we all wish to become – formal and informal – at home, work, politics and faith. Let me describe three choices:

Destroyers: leaders defined by what they hate. They lead by being focused on ‘anti’ and enemies rather than constructive purpose. Bent on destroying their enemy, they lose all objectivity. Rush Limbaugh and CNN have recently behaved like Destroyers.

Victim-makers: leaders defined and animated by victimhood. They focus on pain and powerlessness, not on solutions. Focused on their own pain, they ignore how their leadership disempower followers – and bullies and victimizes others. Black Lives Matter and The Freedom Caucus have acted like Victim-Makers.

Constructors: leaders defined by constructive win-win solutions. They respect the differences of their opposition and seek collaborative solutions. Their own experiences as victims help them avoid victim-making with their allies and their enemies. Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Abraham Lincoln are perhaps the best-known Constructors.

It is time to move beyond Destroyer and Victim-maker leadership. It is time for Relational Leadership dedicated to the business of re-constructing and restoring relationships capable of solving problems and moving us forward.

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