Friday, August 05, 2011

Thoughts About Leadership

I normally write just one post per day, but I got spun up about this topic earlier today and wanted to write the post while the thoughts are still fresh in my mind. The subject is leadership.

This is a topic I think I can write about with some authority, having spent 23 years as an officer in the Air Force and been a small unit commander, an operations officer, and a staff division chief - all leadership positions. How successful I was as a leader is for others to judge, but I think my experience gives me a perspective to comment on the ridiculous circus that we hang our heads and grudgingly admit is our elected government.

It's clear that one of the things most lacking in our government at the moment is leadership. The Republicans don't let a day go by in which they don't loudly castigate President Obama for not demonstrating leadership. Both political parties lack effective leadership, and as a result are led around by the nose by their most extreme fringes and by unelected, self-important buffoons like Grover Norquist and Rush Limbaugh.

But what does it all mean? What do we really need in a leader?

I suggest that there are three essential leadership qualities we need in our government at this crucial point in our history ... all of which are sadly lacking:

First, leaders must inspire. They have to make people want to follow them, even when the way is difficult and the need for short-term pain to fix long-range problems is evident.

Second, leaders must have a vision. No one wants to follow a leader who doesn’t know where he (or she) wants to go.

And finally, leaders must have a plan. A vision may inspire followers, but without a plan for achieving the vision, it's nothing more than a mirage.

Take President Obama. I voted for him and will probably vote for him again, if only because I'm so sickened by the behavior of the Republicans. I do have a certain amount of buyer's remorse, because I don't think Mr Obama is living up to my expectations, but he's had a hard row to hoe. The Republicans may thunder that he's not providing leadership ... but it's tough to be a leader if your opposition is noisy, well-organized, and totally opposed to everything you do or say. When the Republican leadership says that its main goal is to ensure that Mr Obama is a one-term president, and then does everything it can to make that happen, it's tough for the president to demonstrate effective leadership.

I like Mr Obama, and I respect him, but I don't think he has either a vision of where he wants to lead the nation, or a plan of how to get there. He's an inspirational speaker in the sense that he gives a good speech, but I never have the sense that there's a passion and a vision behind the words. No matter what you may say about the Republicans (and I've said a lot, as you know), they have a vision (of a tiny and ineffectual government that collects no taxes and pretty much lets everyone do whatever they want) and they have a plan to get there (do everything possible to block whatever the President and the Democrats try to do).

Leadership is more than the ability to out-shout your opponents. It's more than blaming the other guy for all the problems you worked with him to create in the first place. It's more than putting up a solid wall of unyielding opposition to ideas other than your own.

Leadership is the ability to convince people that you're right, that you have a vision, that the vision is one that also meets their needs and aspirations, and that they can trust you to lead them there.

Leadership is what we have in woefully short supply. It's what both parties have subcontracted to their worst elements ... to the fringe wingnuts who substitute shouted slogans for rational debate and discussion, and who substitute passion for reason.

If we don't get some real leadership from the President - and some willingness to cooperate from the disloyal opposition - the country is going to be in a lot more trouble than it is now, and sooner rather than later.

Call your elected reprehensives. Tell them you demand effective leadership and cooperation based on a willingness to accept that both parties have legitimate issues and concerns. The stakes are high, and you deserve no less.

Have a good day. Demand real leadership.

More thoughts tomorrow.



Mike said...

Nice definition of the republican vision.

You need to come up with a vision for both parties that can lead to a middle ground compromise. Try to have that done by Monday, OK?

Edwin Frownfelter said...

The trouble is, a lot of people who have vision have tunnel vision. Like all of our problems will be solved if we cut taxes, or pass some law, or leave it all to God. As Leonard Cohen once said, a scheme is not a vision.

Anonymous said...

I heard this on NPR yesterday and I think it sums up the problem nicely:

"One useless man is a shame, two useless men is a laywer's office and three or more useless men are the Congress."
John Adams.