Saturday, July 23, 2011

What exactly is Leadership?

There are most likely a million different descriptions or phrases that people use to describe leaders.  When the going gets tough, the tough get going.  Stuff like that.  We all seek out leaders that we deem worth following, and relentlessly complain when they fail us.

In some cases, leaders fail us because we put them in positions that they can't possibly fulfill.  We present them with problems that have no solution, and then complain when they choose the best option because it's not a perfect solution.  We somehow expect they'll find some unexpected way out of the conundrum that had everyone else baffled.

However, many times we simply expect them to lead.  For example, we know that the best military leaders can't ensure that no soldier is wounded or killed, even if we lament every battle casualty.  We accept that reality, and simply ask that they understand our pain.  Despite our anguish, we continue to follow them.  It's clear that the crucible of battle can identify and define Leaders.

However, amongst us are people who believe they are leaders, and they actively seek to fill those roles.  With very few exceptions, politicians hold their office because they sought it.  Despite the fact that we are openly skeptical of campaign promises, they stood in front of us and said they wanted the job, promising to do the job.  We may share philosophical perspectives, or simply believe they're better than the other candidates.  We may not even like them, but they seem to be the least worst.

In dealing with Congress, when we are realistic, we know that they are only one of many, and they have a limited ability to make changes: one vote amongst 435, or one vote amongst 100.  However, we still expect them to try.

There are only two things we cannot accept.

First, we expect and understand that governance requires compromise.  It's no different than any other relationship.  You cannot demand your way or the highway with your spouse, your best friend, or anyone else you interact with.  It doesn't work.  So, despite those campaign promises, or whatever pledged you signed for Grover Norquist, we understand that you'll have to move a bit to find something workable.  Leaders understand that, no less than the rest of us.

Second, we cannot abide a quitter.  You asked to be elected as a leader, and now you owe us leadership.  Leadership means you keep trying and working until you find a way.  Leaders are NOT quitters.

So, today we watched as John Boehner quit.  He walked out, saying, in essence, that he wasn't willing to lead.  He was unwilling to compromise, and decided he was also unwilling to lead.  Remember, this is a man who not only ran for election to the House, but also ran to become the Majority Leader of the house.  When the test of a leader came, he bailed.  Today, we watched a failure of Leadership.

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