Staggering Leadership

I’ve been amazed this past week. Actually, a more accurate term would be gob smacked. To those who know me, it’s no secret that I follow politics as spectator sport. This year’s US Presidential election has felt far more like a cage match than Wimbeldon. So unpredictable. So over the top. So beyond reason at times. But this past week reached a level I could not have predicted.

Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate and a man seriously considered as a true alternative to Clinton and Trump, was unable to answer a question about one of the most tragic and blame-filled foreign policy issues of the past few years. Wait, that’s not exactly right. It wasn’t that he did not answer the question. He didn’t even know what the question was. “And what is Aleppo?” will be long-remembered as a crushing political gaffe similar to Howard Dean’s crazy scream, Michael Dukakis’ ride in a tank and George H.W. Bush’s fumbling with supermarket price scanning technology. How have we reached a point where the contenders for the highest job in the land are either deeply distrusted, woefully uninformed or too ready to jump on ideas without thinking them through?

Is this what being a leader is all about?

Respectfully – and forcefully – no. As I’ve written in the past, leadership originates through the individual who embodies and reflects the best and deepest characteristics of the group being led. It’s about harnessing the collective energy and desires of a group or organization and moving them forward in positive and life affirming ways. It’s about them, not you. Being trusted and informed and skillful should be assumed characteristics to possess for anyone who wants a serious leadership role. It is almost beyond comprehension to think these elements are up for debate.

Lest you think these leadership fundamentals apply solely in the political or public realm that is not accurate. Any leader – all leaders, in fact – must be held to similar standards. In December of 2012, Tanya Prive, writing in Forbes, articulated 10 qualities she found essential to successful leadership. The list includes such currently relevant qualities as honesty, commitment and approach. The first of this truncated list is obvious. As for the latter two, think of them in these terms: 1) Commitment, in terms of ensuring one is prepared and ready for the scope of responsibilities at hand and, 2) Approach, as it relates to looking at the full breadth of a group and understanding the need to speak to all variations and diversities with equal concern and respect.

Think of how many leaders you’ve encountered who hold these qualities sacred, irrefutable and indispensible. Now compare that group of leaders in terms of their effectiveness and strength of followership. It is no coincident that those who are honest, are committed to the job and the group, and who approach their people with respect for their differences, are perceived as great leaders. They are staggering, or overwhelming, in positive ways.

The contrast between this model of staggering leadership, inclusive of honesty, commitment and respectful approach, is what has me so frustrated as I ponder this election cycle. Yes, I have already made my choice. Yet I am a bit wistful for a contest that is a little more refined, at least as it relates to the range of leadership choices. I wish I could write-in some former, top quality business leaders to make the whole thing feel more respectable. Or at least make me feel less gob smacked by it all.

In the meantime, I’ll continue on toward the voting booth, trying to focus on the future President as one who could represent and embody the qualities I think are most important today and in the future. I’ll look for clear examples of honesty, commitment and approach. And I will move past this current uncomfortable state of feeling gob smacked – at least until the next spectacular gaffe bursts onto the scene.





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