The reason Donald Trump got elected in 2016 wasn't because America wanted to make America great again.
It was about control.
3 years later, it still is. So why is control important?
Quick story to illustrate. Jack is our youngest son who just turned 21 this week. When he was two and his older brothers were four and six, Christy dressed them up in their Sunday finest to attend an Easter service. The older brothers were decked out in khaki shorts, cream colored polos, and cute little sweater vests.
Jack donned a one-piece smocked number that he did not care for one bit--just look at the photo below.
Right after this photo, Jack stalked back inside (pretty sure the brothers made fun of him) and took off his outfit, and defiantly proclaimed that he would not be attending the service with us.
Control. We crave it.
A 2011 article by Michael Delgado revealed that this instinct for control is so engrained in us that once infants learn how to feed themselves, they want the spoon even if it the result is less food!
Jack demonstrated when he was 2 and still does at 21. In other words, control is in our DNA. It is fundamental. Primal.
So when Republicans painted the Democrats as the government yanking control from the American public, they played on the very heart of what created our nation in the first place:
…But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
Control will always be a political wrestling match, but it has meaning for us too.
Each of us possess a locus of control.
If we believe our locus is external we think our life is primarily influenced by events outside our control. The blame is on somebody else.
On the other hand, if we believe it is internal, we think that we can influence our destiny by the choices we make. The responsibility is mine.
How does this show up in real life?
When I worked as a physical therapist at UAB, I saw some nasty stuff. One orthopedic patient came for therapy following a horrific car accident. The wreck severely interrupted her life—work, relationships, and future fell apart due to the lengthy recovery. Yet, she rarely complained. She voiced to me several times that her recovery and the eventual return of a normal life were up to her. Despite the turmoil and upheaval that happened, she remained firm in her belief that she could make the best of it. That is an internal locus of control.
In the very same building, a surgeon complained (loud and often) that his surgery schedule had been changed without his consent. He fumed. He pitched tantrums. Apparently, the new routine encroached on his lunchtime tennis. With the new schedule, his afternoon patients waited longer. He naturally blamed the department chair rather than adjust his plans accordingly. That is an external locus of control.
Check out this article in Positive Psychology that explains how you approach your life with regards to locus of control can make a world of difference.
So what’s the lesson for leaders?
(1) Hire people with an internal locus of control. I’m not kidding. Your life will be so much better! Don’t know how to find them? Start here.
(2) Allow employees to determine as much control over their jobs as possible. Even the perception of being in control improves employee effort, productivity, and innovation.
(3) Once in their jobs, allow employees to make decisions and choices without having to check with the boss—again, as much as possible. Choice is one of the key drivers of employee engagement.
An article in Problems and Perspectives in Management found that people with an internal locus of control tend to earn more money, have more friends, stay married longer, and report greater personal success and satisfaction.
What if you provided that internal locus of control for your employees?
You would take control and put it in the hands of the people.
In 2016, Donald Trump painted government control as bad and personal control as good. And like him or not, his message of a personal locus of control resonated with enough people to get him elected.
Will it work again in 2020?