Leading for the Bell Curve and Not the Extremes

September 10, 2019

Deke Copenhaver

Leadership Focus is written by Deke Copenhaver, Principal with Copenhaver Consulting LLC. The former mayor of Augusta, a triathlete, writer and runner, Deke is focused on transforming great ideas into great actions.
In a nation where the press and politicians seem to portray us as a country horribly divided, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is not exactly the case. I reached this conclusion by looking at the media and politics from the perspective of a bell curve, with the normal distribution curve being the largest in the middle and the thinnest at the extremes.

Having spent years talking to your average man or woman on the street nationwide, I’ve been hard pressed to come across many individuals who I would define as completely extremist in their views. Granted, my random sampling hasn’t been conducted through conversations at political rallies but rather in one-on-one discussions with the new people I meet from all walks of life on a regular basis. From a political perspective, most of the people I’ve had conversations with, particularly millennials and those in younger generations, tend to identify themselves as being moderate in their views. Most, including myself, feel as though their views are not at all represented by the extreme ends of either political party.

In a recent Gallup Poll, 42% of Americans identified themselves as politically independent with 30% identifying themselves as Democrats and 26% as Republicans. This poll would seem to bear out my random sampling and would also seem to show the majority of people living in our nation are in the normal distribution of the bell curve, which would be the middle. However, our two major political parties, as well as most media outlets, seem to trend further and further to the extremes.

Having spent nine years as mayor of Augusta, Georgia, I realized many years ago that pandering to political extremes may make for entertaining theater or juicy soundbites, but it doesn’t make for good leadership. When making decisions I knew would be unpopular with a vocal minority of citizens, I always kept an eye towards making them based on the greater good of our city as a whole. This focus on governing to the center of the bell curve resulted in me being attacked by the far left and the far right, but it also resulted in my winning three elections with an average of 64% of the vote in a city of 200,000 people.

I’ve often made the point that using fear and intimidation to get your desired outcome is bullying, not leadership. Through the many leadership roles I’ve occupied during my adult life, I’ve come to realize that true leadership has nothing to do with a focus on gaining and maintaining power and control. True leadership is about making your team and those you serve feel safe, secure, included and valued.

Not pandering to the extremes or the vocal minorities in any leadership role you may occupy may be difficult at times, but leadership is never easy. Focusing in on the needs of those that make up the majority of the bell curve is always the best way to proceed.

Back to Listing