Often, we take extreme positions on the leadership qualities of political leaders. Arguably, we are living in a partisan age where people powerfully believe in the people they agree with, and have little time to hear the views of those they don’t. This, we’d suggest at Holborn Assets, hides many of the similarities that most politicians share – and obscures some of the interesting lessons about leadership that can be learned from them, whatever their political leanings or their ability.

People want change (but just not too much)

Politicians of every stripe offer the possibility of change. It is, after all, the currency they deal in. Every new leader will build their campaigns on the perceived failings of the previous one and will offer a raft of new promises that they say will transform the lives of anyone who votes for them this time around. And as leaders in the business world, we’re also often asked to lead in times of change.

The bottom line, however, is that in reality people generally don’t like it when it actually happens. A 2010 study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology suggests that people strongly favour things that have been around longer than things that haven’t. We have an inbuilt aversion to things changing. Essentially, the longer things have been the way they are, the better. It’s probably an issue you’ve encountered many times in the workplace, as you try to introduce new goals, a fresh strategy or a different way of measuring performance.

Things can only get better

So why do political leaders talk so much about change? Well, we’d suggest that it is because they understand that it taps into people’s natural optimism – their belief that things can and will get better. Leaving aside the degree of change that people actually want to see impacting their own lives, research shows that people are generally positive about the future. A study from the National Bureau of Economic Research analysed data from around 1.7 million individuals across 166 countries. It found that this optimism is pretty universal. So, politicians take advantage of this belief that things can get better and they sell their message on the basis of achieving this. But of course, it is the method of getting to this ‘better place’ that differs wildly from party to party.

A powerful vision is crucial

Which leads us to probably the biggest lesson we can learn from political leaders: that a powerful vision is fundamental to attracting followers and initiating change. Whether it is ‘Hope’, or ‘Yes We Can’ or ‘Make America Great Again’, a vision neatly encapsulates this dream of a better future we’ve discussed already.

It becomes a rallying point for followers – and for us as business leaders this lesson underlines the importance of creating a clear, concise and accessible message for our teams. This vision – whether it is for your country or your business – is something that people can get behind and aspire to. And remember, that it is also far more than just a practical performance goal, because it is something that can only be achieved by the movement itself, rather than by individuals acting alone. That, ultimately, is a powerful driver for better teamwork.