July Fourth should rank as one of the proudest, most optimistic days of the year for people who enjoy the freedoms of living in the United States. John Adams imagined future generations celebrating the Declaration of Independence with “pomp and parade” and “illuminations” across the continent, and parades and fireworks still mark the occasion.

But this year something’s missing. Wherever I go, even on social media, people talk about wanting to sit out an election between candidates who have record-setting unpopularity. Much of the public has grown despondent about the prospect of getting a leader who lives up to the office. As someone who has built a career helping organizations find strong leaders and who wrote a book about the qualities that separate excellence from mediocrity, here’s what I want to tell the future president.

  1. Hold yourself accountable. In my business, executive search candidates know that the day they start a job they own its problems. That principle applies to presidents too. Please don’t blame a previous administration or the opposition party when you fall short on campaign promises.
  2. Try transparency. Executive search candidates lose the job when they misstate key numbers or “can’t recall” important facts about their own history. When you have a scandal, please tell the truth. Social media makes it harder to hide things anyway.
  3. Apologize when you screw up. A sincere “I’m sorry” is one of the most powerful ways to show that you care. Since every president makes mistakes, you might as well learn how to apologize now. Tell us that you know what you did was wrong, acknowledge that you caused harm, and commit to making amends or making sure that it doesn’t happen again.
  4. Don’t confuse toughness with rudeness. I once worked for a high-profile boss whose bad behavior led to high turnover and, eventually, financial problems that prompted an ousting by the Board. Voters can do the same to you.
    Show kindness. The most sought-after leaders have the strength to care about others even more than they care about themselves. Kindness matters, especially in this time of growing violence.

Following these principles won’t guarantee success, but great leaders don’t succeed without them. And a democracy doesn’t succeed without citizen participation. To fellow Americans who feel discouraged by today’s political climate: please don’t sit out the election. As we commemorate the document that inspired a nation, let’s do our best to choose a leader together.

By Julie Kampf

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