It’s 2015, Where Have All The Leaders Gone?

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Leadership principles stand the test of time. To me these are defined by integrity, a strong sense of right and wrong, hard work, persistence and resiliency. Finally a commitment to a greater good or cause (helping others) is integral. Letsal20081-206x300(pp_w124_h180)adership is not popularity; good leaders will have times when they are more or less in and out of favor (see Sir. Winston Churchill). Leaders have a strong sense of their core principles from which they don’t depart, regardless of current popular opinion.  Leaders are human beings and by definition are not flawless.  That said, all true leaders have a sense of service – service to their organization or community and to other individuals – from which they strive to lift up organizations and people.  I agree with Robert K. Greenleaf’s view on the topic.

In my travels, I frequently have the opportunity to spend quality time with extraordinary individuals in all walks of life. These include Business CEOs, nonprofit directors, education experts, entertainers, politicians and just ordinary people doing their thing. Many of these individuals are not interested in public leadership, yet in their very day-to-day actions, quietly provide outstanding examples of true leadership.  In a recent interaction with one highly successful CEO, our conversation led to the question of political leadership and the level of vitriol in much of the public dialogue going on. Whether in race relations, economic and entitlement disputes, or combating terrorism, one need only turn on the television and flip channels to hear it on all sides of the political spectrum.

I grew up in a family of teachers and liberals. I was known back then as the “Alex P. Keaton” of my family (Michael J. Fox’s character in Family Ties) by many relatives. In other words, I was a conservative thinking person in a household of liberaFamily tiesls. I grew up debating the issues of the day at the kitchen table. And while at family get togethers even today, we may disagree on approach, inevitably there is agreement on many of the problems in the world and that the status quo is unacceptable. There is no name calling or questioning of each others intentions, but rather a healthy disagreement on solutions. I’m struck by how rare this is in today’s public discourse.

For example, there is widespread agreement that America’s education system is failing our country, our communities and our kids.   Teachers think this. Parents think this. Kids think this. CEOs think this.

See What’s Holding Back American Teenagers?

Why American Education Fails

The Failure of American Schools

The Graph That Shows How Badly U.S. Education is Failing

I view the bureaucracy and the statist entrenched interests as fundamental impediments to change for effective education. One can be quite liberal and agree with that viewpoint. Where there is significant disagreement typically are in the methods and approaches for changing it. Without addressing the solutions here (my point is leadership and constructive discourse not solving education in this post), the level of personal attacks and vitriol around the debate, is often times exacerbated by our public officials. The current fights around Common Core are bringing out some of this (see Who Is Fighting Against Common Core?).   Common Core has brought conservative and liberal groups together in opposition (for very different reasons). In every state and locality, there are the powerful teachers unions who tend to oppose most reforms of any impact. In many cases they have captured the statehouses with members who pledge allegiance to them regardless of position (see Teachers union fights Cuomo’s school reforms).  The debate in most cases is not a debate, but rather, a contest of sound bites to make political points, usually denigrating the opponents.

 

Back to my conversation with the CEO above, we reminisced about leaders in the past who seemed to bronald-reagan-brandenburg-gate-west-berlin-june-12-1987-picturee above the fray and always showed class and respect for their opponents. I mentioned President Ronald Reagan, whom I never had the chance to meet, but admired greatly. I have read and heard from those who knew him, that Reagan treated everyone with respect. He would speak to the gardener, as he would address a world leader. He was also willing to take tough stands regardless of the political winds. His advisors and speechwriters, the State Department and all around him reportedly advised strongly against any mention of the Berlin Wall coming down. When Reagan made his now famous speech at the Brandenburg Gate he overruled them all as he spoke that incredible call to action “Tear Down This Wall”. All agree it was a pivotal moment in the history of cold war, and it would not have come to be had he been willing to say what he thought was right at that moment.  I remember Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan exhibiting these qualities and being willing to tackle tough issues regardless of the dogma of his party.  He had an ability to reach across the aisle and collaborate with political foes on important issues.

Former Indiana Governor and current Purdue University President Mitch Daniels has this quality as well. Mitch served for a purpose, and it was NOT for the purpose of being in office. These were leaders in the true sense of the word.   Individuals who would stand by their convictions in spite of opposition, but who never seemed to make personal attacks against individuals. They also served in the true sense of the word. I miss that.

Smoke & Mitch Daniels

I’m not saying there are no leaders today who exhibit these characteristics, but it is simply too rare. As long as personal attacks of motives and cult of personality (regardless of how bad the behavior) are accepted and even encouraged, this will remain the case. I fundamentally believe one can disagree on ideas and still have great respect for others. This is true in politics, business and life. As serial entrepreneur, Sir. Richard Branson posted today “The importance of good neighbors is often underappreciated. By fostering a healthy and respectful relationship, everybody stands to gain.”   I have many friends who exhibit these qualities traveling to Melbourne, Australia this week for the Global Leadership Conference (GLC) for the Young Presidents Organization (YPO/WPO).  In business and nonprofits, and community organizations, there are individuals exhibiting great leadership every day. I’d be interested in hearing your examples of people who exhibit the qualities of true leaders in their words and deeds.

One Comment On “It’s 2015, Where Have All The Leaders Gone?”

  1. Pingback: Real March Madness – Indiana Says No To Leadership & Open Mindedness | J Smoke Wallin – Drink Technology

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