On Leadership

Wed. Oct. 10 – The second US presidential debate was held last night.  Today Fox News and CNN both boast posts listing thousands of comments from people claiming McCain won or Obama won.

Did you watch the debate last night?  Do you have an opinion of who won?  Have you read the comments that the McCain and Obama supporters are leaving on the the linked posts above?

Go ahead, read some of the comments from both of the links.  We’ll wait…

Are We All Losing?

How can so many people fall into two such violently differing viewpoints on the candidates’ performances?  Does it really all come down to whether you’re red or blue, republican or democrat?  Where did all the anger and resentment these people are expressing come from?  Slander and accusations, rude language and personal attacks – has it always been this way?

The President of the United States is frequently called the “leader of the free world,” but what are the qualities of a good leader?  The sixth US president defined it this way:

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” — John Quincy Adams

Inspiring words that describe what may be our ideal of a good leader.  Ironic, isn’t it, that Adams’ achieved very little during his presidency due to the opposition he experienced from Andrew Jackson’s supporters in the congress of his day.  I imagine John Quincy Adams, if he could be brought back, would identify the partisan fighting in Washington as business as usual.

Be Careful What You Ask For, You Just Might Get It

Let me be honest with you: like the majority of Americans, I too have an opinion on which candidate would make the better president.  As I watched the debates last night, I cheered my candidate on.  Unfortunately, I also found myself deriding his opponent’s statements.  I smiled each time I felt my candidate “scored” a point.  I scoffed and occasionally cursed at the opponent’s claims.  I even found myself taking personal offense at some of his statements, as if they were directed at me.

Then, in a moment of clarity, I saw how I was behaving and I was ashamed.  I was allowing myself to get caught up in the prize-fight mentality of the campaign.  The comments from the linked posts above feel an awful lot like the fist fights that can break out in the crowds at such a boxing event.

Have we lost our perspective on the role of the president?  He has a very important job, but he doesn’t run the country all by himself.  He is the leader of the executive branch, and he has a big say in the direction that our country will take in the next four years, but he’s just one man.

The senators and congressmen in the legislative branch, and the lawyers and judges in the judicial branch, will also have a major impact on the next four years.  They could easily thwart every presidential initiative, if they so desire.  And let’s not forget that we’re just one country among many on this planet.  If the new president is going to be effective, his administration will have to partner with many different people who hold many differing opinions and perspectives.

So what do all the strong opinions and raw emotions surrounding this presidential campaign say about us, the US citizens?  I believe it all boils down to this: we’re trying to shirk our responsibilities.

We want someone to take charge and get us out of the all the messes we’ve allowed our country to get into.  We don’t want to have to pay attention to how the problems get fixed, just as long as the solutions don’t affect us personally. We’re looking for a savior to fix everything for us.

So the election has degraded into an all-or-nothing decision.  Us versus them, with no middle ground for compromise.  If your candidate wins, then we’re safe for four more years.  If not, then you know who the scapegoat will be for all the woes of our country.  Can anyone successfully lead in this sort of an environment?

What We Need Are Leaders

We have become complacent.  We’ve gotten lazy.  We’ve accepted the lie that we’re powerless.  It’s time for all of us to take back the responsibility we hold as US citizens.  It’s time for us to start leading ourselves again.

“The task of leadership is not to put greatness into people, but to elicit it, for the greatness is there already.” — John Buchan

“I start with the premise that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.” — Ralph Nader

Once again, what is leadership?  It’s so hard to define, but we all can recognize it when we see it.  And we’re hungry for it.

First, let’s be clear: leadership starts with us.  Each of us, no matter how lowly we believe we are, has leadership responsibilities, to ourselves and to others.  Dee Hock, the founder and CEO emeritus of Visa International, sums up leadership this way:

“If you seek to lead, invest 50% of your time (attention) leading yourself – your own purpose, ethics, principles, motivation, conduct.  Invest 20% leading those with authority over you and 15% leading your peers.  Use the remainder to induce those you “work for” to understand and practice the theory.  If you don’t understand that you should be working for your mislabeled “subordinates,” then you know nothing of leadership.  You only know tyranny.  Lead yourself, lead your superiors, lead your peers, and free your people to do the same.  All else is trivial.” — Dee Hock

Personal leadership is critical to the success of our families, our businesses, our communities, and our country as a whole.

“I think leadership comes from integrity – that you do whatever you ask others to do. I think there are non-obvious ways to lead. Just by providing a good example as a parent, a friend, a neighbor makes it possible for other people to see better ways to do things. Leadership does not need to be a dramatic, fist in the air and trumpets blaring, activity.” — Scott Berkun

If we’re to be effective leaders, then we need to put the needs of others ahead of our own.

“Good leaders must first become good servants.” –Robert Greenleaf

As leaders, we need to remember that the ends do not justify the means.  The means and the ends are inseparable.  We can’t end terrorism through torture.  We won’t pay for our government’s historical deficit by cutting taxes.  Sacrifices are hard, but failure is much worse.

“The older I get, the less I listen to what people say and the more I look at what they do.” — Andrew Carnegie

“You don’t lead by pointing and telling people some place to go.  You lead by going to that place and making a case.” — Ken Kesey

Each of us has the ability to become better leaders.

“Leaders aren’t born they are made.  And they are made just like anything else, through hard work.  And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.” — Vince Lombardi

So I encourage each of you, study what the candidates have to say.  Don’t accept pat, party dogma for answers.  Challenge yourself to really listen to what each candidate is proposing.  Then, vote your convictions come November.

But remember, our job doesn’t end with that one vote.  Our government leaders have been selected by the people and they work for the people.  It’s our duty to monitor their performance, and to help them make the right decisions.  The lobbyists have a lot of money, and they’ve enjoyed a great deal of influence in Washington, but they’re no match to an electorate who have unleashed their potential as leaders.

If enough of us aspire to our higher potential, then perhaps we’ll find that we do get the kind of leaders that we all hope to find.

The true leader serves.  Serves people.  Serves their best interests, and in so doing will not always be popular, may not always impress.  But because true leaders are motivated by loving concern rather than a desire for personal glory, they are willing to pay the price.” — Eugene B. Habecker  The Other Side of Leadership