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Authenticity Determined This Election's Winners And Losers

10/29/2015 12:28 EDT | Updated 10/29/2016 05:12 EDT
Peter Dazeley via Getty Images
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"Take me like I am, that's the only catch." - Todd Rundgren


It is obvious that Justin Trudeau was the big winner in the federal election. You might be surprised that we believe Stephen Harper was also a winner, while Tom Mulcair was the big loser -- but not just because he came last of the big three parties.

This is not an article about politics, so we won't offer our analysis on the basis of political ideology or party platforms. We are looking at the performance of the three leaders through the lens of authenticity: how true to themselves each of the leaders were and how it impacted the results of the election.

"Take me like I am, that's the only catch" is a line from Todd Rundgren's song, "The Verb, To Love." It speaks to authenticity: being your true self and letting the chips fall where they may. It is the antithesis of spinning or the packaging of a candidate for public consumption during an election. Both Trudeau and Harper were authentic to who they are in the campaign, while Mulcair showed up as a packaged pretense of what he wanted people to think of him, not who he truly is.

Trudeau is an idealist. He is an upbeat dreamer who sees things as they can be rather than as they are. Whether or not he can combine those qualities with political pragmatism remains to be seen. He was shaky at the beginning of the campaign but, ironically, the extra-long election period that Harper called to benefit himself helped Trudeau by giving him time to find his feet. He showed up to the first debate with his pants on, to echo the cynical comment of Tory Kory Teneycke, and performed even better in subsequent debates.

He was passionate, emotional and earnest. You may disagree with him, maybe even intensely, but you can't deny he was being himself. People liked his authenticity and chose him as the "anyone but Harper" (ABH) candidate over Mulcair.

Harper, too, was true to himself. Cool and composed (he is a master of hiding his legendary rages in public), Harper came across as the measured, hyper-rational, totally in control manager that he is. Having a reputation for divisive politics, his handling of the Syrian refugee crisis and the niqab debacle were both seen as in-character. His stonewalling in the Duffy case, insisting it was only Duffy and Nigel Wright involved, and his insistence that marijuana is "infinitely worse" than cigarettes is totally consistent with his long history of never letting facts get in the way of his personal beliefs. Harper ran a campaign that was authentically Harper --and he lost.

So, why does this make Harper a winner? Because he said "Take me like I am, that's the only catch." It is totally consistent with what we know of him that he would prefer to lose being himself than win being a fake. This may seem bull-headed, but isn't that who we know Harper to be?

While he wasn't able to attract new voters, Harper held his base and did the best he could considering he knew two-thirds of Canadians had grown tired with his act after a decade in power. He led his party to official opposition, soundly beating a party (the NDP) that was positioned to win the election at the beginning of the campaign.

While the Conservatives will be in opposition for the next four years, the party wasn't decimated and it is actually in good shape to challenge the Liberals in 2019. If Harper had behaved any differently than his authentic self, he would have not only have lost those 70 per cent of Canadians who didn't vote Conservative, he would have lost his base as well.

And then there's Tom Mulcair. The BIG loser. In fact, the biggest loser of the three leaders. Personality-wise, Mulcair is like a Stephen Lewis Lite, which is not a negative. Like Lewis, he is conscientious, socially oriented and a passionate proponent of historical Canadian values (civility, kindness, inclusion, collaboration, as revealed in a comprehensive Ensight study conducted the day after the election that also showed people viewed Harper as holding views opposing these values).

He is known as "Angry Tom" in part because when he sees those values being violated, like Lewis, he speaks out articulately and with righteous indignation. What he failed to understand is his passionate expressions of outrage is a large part of his appeal.

He entered the election campaign ahead in the polls with many believing he had a credible shot at leading the NDP to power for the first time ever nationally and becoming prime minister. For some reason, he and his handlers felt that his natural "Angry Tom" persona would alienate voters, so they suppressed it, presenting him as smiley, friendly, grandfatherly Tom. But the Tom people saw in the campaign was not the Tom they knew; voters saw right through the inauthentic façade he was presenting.

Mulcair's inauthenticity created two problems. First, two-thirds of Canadians wanted to elect anyone but Harper and had two credible options: Trudeau and Mulcair. Their dilemma was figuring out which of the options to choose to ensure Harper was defeated.

The more of the inauthentic Mulcair they saw, the more they moved away from him. Compounding this problem was the fact that Trudeau became more credible as the campaign progressed. By election day, too many people who were in the NDP camp stampeded over to the Liberals, causing a massive decline in NDP fortunes compared to their stunning result in 2011. Not only did they lose the new voters they attracted in 2011, unlike Harper they lost the strong base they had established in Quebec to the Liberals.

The second problem Mulcair's inauthenticity caused was that in the voter stampede from the NDP to the Liberals, the NDP lost many credible, intelligent and conscientious veteran candidates, including Andrew Cash, Peggy Nash and Paul Dewar. In a different election climate, these candidates likely would have won. In an election where their party was led by the façade of a leader, rather than the leader himself, they became collateral damage. Tom didn't follow Todd Rundgren's advice and he paid for it dearly.

The leaders' adherence, or not, to their authentic selves does not account for the whole story behind the election results. But it isn't by accident that the two leaders we consider authentic had positive outcomes and the one who didn't received a devastating result.

Authenticity is essential for businesses as well. The rise of social media as a social force is dramatically increasing transparency in the relationships between companies and their customers. Things that used to remain hidden about companies now get exposed and go viral. People see right through the inauthenticity in a company because they are smart and companies now are so exposed.

In our book, "Why Should I Choose You?" (answering the single most important question in business in seven words or less), we describe how a company's authentic self acts like a magnet: attracting those customers and employment prospects who are aligned and repelling those who aren't. The benefit of attracting customers is obvious, but the fact that it can repel is important to operational efficiencies and cost savings. You don't want to waste time, energy and money on prospects who are unqualified, so if how you present yourself is authentic, it acts as the first, inexpensive stage in weeding out unqualified prospects.

Stephen Harper weeded out unqualified prospects and, in the process, lead his party to a position of healthy opposition, ready to contest the next election. Mulcair led his party to unqualified failure -- losing both new voters and the ones who migrated to the NDP in 2011 -- by being inauthentic. And Trudeau won a resounding majority by saying, "Take me like I am, that's the only catch."

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