Small leader gestures have big follower impact

Leader Gestures – The basics of decency and respect

Within a period of three days, on two of the world’s biggest stages, millions of viewers observed two slights of basic human decency and respect by two of the most influential people towards other prominent world figures. These simple social faux pas spoke volumes about their disregard for others. The first of these affronts coincidently occurred on Friday, July 13th at Windsor Palace between Queen Elizabeth II and President Donald Trump. The second occurred on Sunday, July 15th at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow between Presidents Vladimir Putin, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, and Emmanuel Macron. Fortunately for all of us, President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović of Croatia was modeling desperately needed pro-social leader gestures.

The Queen is somewhere around here

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President Trump walking ahead of Queen Elizabeth II during his visit to Windsor Castle. Photos by Richard Pohle

The procedure seems straightforward. Walk side-by-side through a column of honor guards. How difficult can it be? Even with what appeared to be instruction from the Queen, Trump either did not listen and/or did not care about the process. Leaving the Queen momentarily in his shadow, he gave the impression that the ceremony was only to honor his presence. During the short promenade Trump not once looked at the Queen.

Put aside for a moment their titles and all the pomp and circumstance. An older man (72) is walking with an even older woman (92). As fit as Queen Elisabeth II is she is elderly and walking on an uneven surface. Wouldn’t it be proper and kind for the man to walk by her side? That is at a minimum. The extra step would be to offer his arm. The picture below offers a striking contrast to what easily could have been. The facial expressions in each picture says it all.

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A young man accompanying an elderly woman on a walk Photo credit: Bcbits.com

Raining? Really, I’m hardly wet.

As French and Croation players in the World Cup finals were awarded their medals and congratulated by FIFA president Gianni Infantoni, Vladimir Putin, Emmanuel Macron, and Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, it began to rain then pour. As weather conditions worsened, the first to receive an umbrella was Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović. No, not exactly. The first to receive protection from the elements was the host, Vladimir Putin. As Putin was sheltered by a large umbrella he did not even have to hold, Grabar-Kitarović, Macron, and Infantoni stood in elements jubilantly embracing players and coaches.

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Presidents Macron and Grabar-Kitarović congratulate players and coaches in the pouring rain while President Putin takes cover under the first umbrella. Photo by Reuters.

Let us again put aside the titles and the significance of the ceremony. You are hosting three people at your house in your backyard. Suddenly the clouds roll in and it begins to rain then downpour. What do you do? You find an umbrella for yourself. No. This is not an airplane emergency where you are instructed to put your mask on first, then attend to others. You attend to the needs of your guests first.

Trump does not fair better with umbrella courtesy. He also ensured his well-being first under an oversized golf umbrella while Barron and Melanie handled the elements sans parapluie. Maybe the Queen could arrange a lesson in umbrella etiquette for them both.

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Trump making sure he is protected from the elements.
Photo: AP/Andrew Harnik

Leader gestures and their impact on followers

Small gestures say a lot about a leader’s character. A leader is the model of the behavior she wants her followers to emulate. Some followers do in fact imitate what their leader says and does. What messages are Presidents Trump and Putin sending their constituents on how to treat the elderly, family members, countries hosting you, or foreigners visiting your country?

Remember playing Follow-the-leader as a child?  A very empowering feeling for a young person knowing every one must pay attention to her every step and action. These simple leader gestures, however, are not a game and need to be taken seriously.  Followers can become emboldened by a leader’s irresponsible and anti-social gestures or language. Depending on the leader’s influence and intention, he can incite followers to either bring communities together or have them tear apart the social fabric that keeps us treating one another humanely. I explore the dangers of phony leadership in a previous blog.

A responsible leader gesture

On July 1st, when the Round of 16 of the World Cup was underway, President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović flew economy class to Russia with other Croatian fans to support their national team. What impact did her small gesture have on her constituents and the team? See for yourself.  The Croatian national team deserves full credit for reaching the World Cup Finals. One begs to ask, however, if such pro-social behaviors becoming of a president also contributed to their team’s national and international success?

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Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic flying economy with passengers to Russia. Facebook/Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović
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