In a few days, the world will observe the inauguration of the 46th President of the United States. Some will welcome the new president with hope for a change, and some with questions of what to expect next in the U.S.’ domestic and foreign policies. Will the president-elect Joe Biden bring the country back to where it was before Donald Trump assumed office and can this be done? The Adaptive Leadership Center at the Institute of International Relations and Political Science at Vilnius university (IIRPS VU) held a discussion on the political and societal processes in the U.S. during the last four years and what kind of leadership is needed for the country to succeed in the future. The participants of the discussion were the Former President of Lithuania Ms. Dalia Grybauskaitė, Professor at the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government Marty Linsky, CEO and President of the Kansas Leadership Center Ed O’Malley, the Director of IIRPS VU assoc. prof. Margarita Šešelgytė and Ambassador, Director at the Communication and Cultural Diplomacy Department of Lithuanian MFA Rytis Paulauskas.
Numerous surprises in decisions both in domestic and external politics of the current U.S. President Donald Trump are what bring the world to expect predictability and stability from the president-elect Joe Biden. However, even though the Former President Dalia Grybauskaitė welcomes the political experience and personal traits of Joe Biden, Ms. Grybauskaitė, together with other participants in the discussion agreed that Mr. Biden will enter the office in a very complex situation – with the pandemic still roaring, a sharp drop in confidence in democratic systems and an overall international instability. Because of these extraordinary conditions, there is a need for a different approach in problem solving, according to Professor Marty Linsky. Even though getting the facts straight is much needed, it does not control the entire decision-making process – there is a need to evaluate people’s feelings and emotions to make informed decisions. Both Marty Linsky and Ed O’Malley emphasize that using adaptive leadership methods allows one to avoid choosing only one option and instead it leads to thinking about a particular challenge in a non-binary way. In this peculiar setting in the U.S., the need for accountability and the healing process are what must be ensured in order not to make everyone happy, but to not leave anyone behind when moving forward.
Nevertheless, the Former President of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaitė pays attention to the divided society of the U.S., which may interfere with rapid healing processes in the country. The adaptive leadership experts Linsky and O’Malley agree: Donald Trump and Joe Biden are symbols of different perspectives. Mr. Trump created an illusion for many Americans that they will be able to live again in the times of the great American Dream, and he used his famous phrase “Make America Great Again” for this purpose. However, the public of the U.S. is very heterogenic and thus Donald Trump for one part of it became a symbol of everything that is good, but for other part – a symbol of everything what is wrong with the country. It is thus very important to consider what symbols will be introduced to the American people in the next four years.
Joe Biden is known for listening to those who are unheard, unlike Mr. Trump who tended to listen to only those who agree with him. Ms. Dalia Grybauskaitė is sure that Mr. Biden has all the qualities the U.S. needs from a president at this point, and most importantly, the country needs predictability and reliability. Ed O’Malley adds that even though Joe Biden could possibly unite the nation, it is crucial that not only the central but also the local leadership gets stronger. It is seen in various parts in the world – including in the U.S. and in Lithuania – the growth of civic initiatives and leadership which lead to effective problem solving.
As for the States’ leadership in the international arena, the hopes are high. However, even though Ms. Dalia Grybauskaitė and Mr. Rytis Paulauskas expressed confidence in the U.S. leadership, Professor Marty Linsky warned not to fall asleep on the positivity and not to preach unreal illusions. It is important to understand that the U.S. will not and could not go back to where it was before Trump – in the times of serious global challenges, everyone must take up leadership in the areas which matter the most. Democracy is not a spectator sport – living in a democratic environment means that one has to play a certain role and be civically engaged.