“Obama helped create the conditions that gave rise to Trump.” 

Say what?

This was Cindy Wigglesworth’s assertion in our podcast interview. It threw a wrench in the spokes of my brain. I always saw Obama and Trump as polar opposites. But Obama helping to bring Trump forth into power? 

What did she mean?

She says, “Trump is an evolutionary agent. He is bringing forth our darkest shadow and it’s humiliating and painful. There was a huge backlash to the fact that Obama was black. Those who were more liberal thinking thought things had progressed and evolved, and were broken-hearted to discover that things were not better yet.” 

While Obama was emblematic of what could be possible – a world where race does not matter – his election spurred anger and resentment in the still racist parts of America. And they saw in Trump a figure who could represent their perspective. Hence Obama helped, albeit unwittingly, surface the ugly truths of racism still present in the Land of the Free.

Here my belief system shifted a notch: it wasn’t progressive versus convervative (Obama vs Trump). It’s so easy to say one is bad and the other is good. To approve of one and disapprove of another. It’s important instead to see the contrast as an opportunity to explore what kind of hatred and healing we still need to clear up in order to become a more inclusive society.

The work of leaders dedicated to being People First includes courage to look at our belief systems, our own B.S.

How do we do this?

Sniff out judgment.

Where do you hold negative opinions about others? This could be of family members, friends, colleagues, people of other ethnic backgrounds. Or politicians.

Any time we disparage others, sometimes to elevate ourselves, we are likely running a crappy B.S. (belief system).

Ask compassionate questions.

When you spot one of these B.S., challenge it. Ask, what am I disapproving of here? What is it about their behaviour or beliefs or demeanour that is riling my sense of disgust? Really drill in to this one. This is where your blinkers sit.

Then dive in. Time to see them as human beings with wants and ambitions that are just as valuable and important to them as your own are to you. What might be causing their behaviour or attitude? Where is the pain underneath that? What needs to heal or be improved for their behaviour to change?

Set aside your scorn and go to work.

If you’re in a position to do so, address the systems that are driving the behaviour you dislike. Commit to resolving the bigger issues that are driving divisions. 

If you are not in a position to affect change, because the issue is removed from your sphere of influence, commit to compassionate conversation. Shy away from demonising others, calling others ‘idiots, basket cases, nutters’ or some other unhelpful term. Encourage a curious conversation about what sits underneath all that, and what we can do as a society to be more inclusive and peaceful.

What beliefs do you have about others that might be ripe for a re-assessment?



  • Zoë Routh

    Australia's Leadership Expert, Author of Book of the Year "People Stuff" l Speaker l Mentor l Strategist

    Zoë Routh is one of Australia’s leading experts on people stuff - the stuff that gets in our way of producing results, and the stuff that lights us up. She works with the growers, makers, builders to make people stuff fun and practical.

    Zoë is the author of four books: Composure - How centered leaders make the biggest impact,  Moments - Leadership when it matters most, Loyalty - Stop unwanted staff turnover, boost engagement, and build lifelong advocates, and People Stuff - Beyond Personalities: An advanced handbook for leadership. People Stuff was awarded Book of the Year 2020 by the Smart WFM Australian Business Book Awards.

    Zoë is also the producer of The Zoë Routh Leadership Podcast.