Not for nothing is George Washington known as “the father of his country.” The honorific is for his leadership roles during the Revolutionary War, the Constitutional Convention, and his two terms in the White House. But mostly he is thought of as the nation’s “father” because he did what effective leaders do – they parent their followers. Effective leaders provide their followers with a sense of comfort and control, even if sometimes this sense is misplaced.
The leader’s parenting role came to mind yesterday, while reading an article about how many Americans have been made anxious by the 2016 presidential campaign. The American Psychological Association reports that 52 % of adults are coping with high levels of stress brought on by the political season. According to an article in yesterday’s New York Times, “therapists around the country have said in interviews that patients are coming to appointments citing their fears, anger and anxiety about the election.”*
While the article claimed that the reason for our stress is related to the issues – issues such as terrorism, gun rights, and sexual assault play into our fears and anxieties – the leadership literature suggests that the problem goes deeper. It suggests that what we really seek is a recreation of, a reiteration of, a reincarnation of Mommy and Daddy.
We long for reassuring authority figures to play parental roles: to satisfy our need for personal safety; to satisfy our need for domestic security; to satisfy our need for protection against interloper outsiders; to satisfy our need to be well taken care of; to satisfy our need to be included in a group; and to satisfy our need to feel special. Leaders who appear able to satisfy these needs meet with our approval. Leaders who do not face our disapproval.
So the reasons for our collective stress have less to do with specific policy issues than with how we feel about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Instead of calming us down, enclosing us in a protective embrace, they do the opposite. They trigger in us feelings of fear, anger, distrust and frustration.**
But, as the campaign winds down, it’s increasingly seeming we prefer having Hillary as Mommy than Donald as Daddy. Her whopping 20 something point lead on the matter of temperament is why her as parent is preferred over her volatile Republican counterpart.