As Election Day approached, some writers expoundied on the topic of leadership.
So it’s appropriate to spell out leadership thoughts as Americans head to polling booths and fill out ballots to choose our nation’s leaders.
Leadership at its core amounts to follower ship – the propensity to accept a leader’s point of view and judgment on policy matters. Many of us had coaches who were effective leaders – they inspired respect and had winning and sportsmanship as their reasons for being. Perhaps we looked up to them because they were in charge of our destinies as players, but I recall looking up to them because they knew more than I did – they were figures with wisdom.
And we expect our leaders to be wise – possessed of high intelligence suitable for the challenges Americans face and with suitable answers. Leaders must have that secret something that convinces us that they’re better than we are – that they care about our common purpose and that they’re not marred by the personal flaws that touch the rest of us. They must not appear selfish, petty or self-obsessed. Instead they must be magnanimous and able to devise answers to problems we didn’t consider, answers that make sense and inspire confidence.
When President Ronald Reagan publicly announced that America had intercepted a jetliner that carried the killers that took control of the 1985 MS Achille Lauro highjacking, he exercised leadership that instilled confidence. President John F. Kennedy showed leadership and inspired confidence during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis that touched America – his coolness under fire at an emotional time helped all Americans appreciate his leadership. His personal peccadilloes were kept under wraps, but Americans still had confidence in his leadership. Having been now-deceased U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens’ (R-Alaska) chief of staff in the 1970s, I know he was an outstanding leader with intelligence, judgment and personal attributes that inspired confidence. He rose in Senate leadership positions, so he inspired the confidence of his colleagues as well as he did his staff. He always seemed to have sensible answers for policy problems of the times then.
President Donald Trump inspires many with his leadership style, but he turns many against him. His opponents think him unqualified and too self-absorbed to qualify as a great leader.
Great leaders have the ability to persuade opponents to come their way – to be inspired by their leadership and supportive of their judgments. President Abraham Lincoln had his detractors 150 years ago, but his unselfish actions in support of a strong American Union convinced many that his heart was “in the right place” and his vision was inspirational.
Vision is another attribute of strong leaders – they must be able to rise above the fog of uncertainty, see the future, and take America there. President Kennedy did so when he entered the space race, inspiring scientists everywhere to take America to the moon. The result was spectacular and inspired other leaders such as Sen. John Glenn, the first man to orbit Earth. President Reagan’s opposition to an overwhelming federal government brought others to his way of thinking – adopting his vision.
Respect – followers must respect a leader and be at attention in his or her presence, listening to every word the leader utters. It’s not enough to take a leader’s direction. One must first respect the leader and then be captivated by the leader’s words or direction. It’s one thing to respect a leader because the leader rules – it’s quite another to follow a leader because one believes in the leader and the leader’s direction. A leader loses respect when the follower loses respect for the leader – the leader lets followers down when the leader becomes mortal or succumbs to common private passions, becoming more like the leader’s followers instead of assuming a strong leadership role. That may not be fair to the leader because it denies him or her common human failures attendant to most humans, but such is the price of strong and respected leadership. Leaders are expected to, and should, live differently than the rest of us.
Leadership is intangible. It’s like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s comment about pornography: We know it when we see it. But leadership today is more important than ever. We Americans long for the time when the leaders we choose are wise, respected, intelligent, have a strong vision, are unselfish and have heart. So choose wisely when exercising one’s franchise.
George Nethercutt was the U.S. representative for the 5th Congressional District of Washington from 1995-2005.
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