[September 13, 2021] It has been written repeatedly among those who study leadership that one of their most sought-after characteristics is the ability to unite people for a common cause. Such a rare capability is desirable in the obvious but requires great strength of courage, broad experience, and wisdom. To unite is the epitome of greatness.
“Divide and rule, the politician cries; unite and lead is the watchword of the wise.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – German writer and statesman
Causes that inspire can be either good or bad. But to rally folks to something good requires extraordinary effort and extreme skill in a leader. As such, it is indeed rare to find it within any leader.
Senior leaders who can unite people for a common cause are sought after for their talent and their results. As we watch the United States and its recent political one-upmanship game, our nation has become more divided than ever. This is a failure in leadership.
An ideological example is Socialism. It is beautiful sounding emotionally but is inherently about dividing society and pitting one against another. Along with its variants, Socialism is an ideology based on the notion that people are oppressed and the strongest way to ensure victory for them is to unite and rebel against those at the top. Historically it has failed and caused unimaginable death and misery (see my notes on Socialism here and here).
Suppose we observe each of the U.S. presidential candidates in the last election. In that case, we can educate ourselves in those talking about bringing people together and making a better America versus those who speak of pitting one segment of society against another. Students of leadership would do themselves a favor by re-watching those debates and speeches to see whether they were uniting people.
Senior leaders must possess the ability to unite people for a common (and good) cause. Even when leaders cannot bring people together, it is imperative that they consciously embrace the ideas of unity and work hard to improve that trait in themselves. Otherwise, failure awaits. Great leaders are distinguished from all others by this characteristic alone.