Life inside a leadership void
Watching the latest scandals roiling our nation’s capital, it’s hard not to be saddened as much by our response as by the criminal acts themselves. Who can be surprised when a lobbyist making $750 an hour is found guilty of collecting and disbursing huge amounts of money in unsavory ways? And would anyone be shocked if the trail of slime eventually leads right to the White House, as it has to the top leaders of Congress?Probably not. What’s sad is that the American people have come to expect so little from their leaders that even “adequate” or “not completely corrupt and moronic” would be a welcome change. Even diehard George Bush fans must be hard pressed to make a legitimate case that he’s doing a “heckuva job.” As far as I’m concerned, the guy should be put in a cage. But that’s another column.Leading, and leading well, is not and has never been easy. In my life, I’ve come across very few true leaders whose merits outweigh their faults. In my own experiences as a leader or a manager, I’ve recognized how challenging it is to do just an OK job, much less attain the heights of a Washington, a Caesar, a Churchill, a Lincoln. And even if history has been kind to these names, no doubt they had plenty of detractors in their day – and made their share of mistakes.One really needs to look to fiction to find the best examples of great leadership. Most “Star Trek” fans would love to see Jean-Luc Picard in the White House, maybe with James T. Kirk as the secretary of defense and Mr. Spock heading up the State Department. My choice of the perfect leader would be Capt. Jack Aubrey of the Royal Navy. Protagonist of a 20-book series of books by Patrick O’Brian, Jack Aubrey afloat is everything you’d ever want in a leader: steady, courageous, wise and willing to listen, up to a point, to what others have to say.If novelists and screenwriters can imagine such leaders, why can’t such people inhabit the real world? In Washington, it’s always been obvious that power has a way of corrupting even the most high-minded of people. Only the strongest-willed person could successfully navigate the tricky shoals of party loyalty, favor payback, political realities and a million other influencers that make even straightforward-seeming decisions brutally complex and morally challenging.But the fact is, if you’ve gotten to those positions by a vote of the people, you damn sure better resist those influencers. You’ve also got a responsibility – a heavy responsibility – to represent not just your “base” but the country as a whole. No, you’ll never please everyone, but if you don’t consider things from angles other than your own, you’ll be a failure.Good leadership comes from strength, integrity and the ability to see problems from different perspectives. Greatness comes when you translate all that into solutions that work. Right now, the legacy-saving “solution” staring our president in the face is the win-win-win approach of pursuing alternative energy in the U.S. But hardly anyone in power is talking about it. And that’s the other part of good or great leadership: Seizing opportunities when they arise with fearless determination. (Sorry W, it doesn’t count for pointless wars.)Imagine a president who set aside the model of how things are done now and proposed a sweeping change in America’s energy policy. Out the door would be the 20th century model of petroleum dependence and in would be an initiative to reduce what we use and create new sources of energy from resources we have in abundance. It’s not pie-in-the-sky: The technologies exist to harness wind and solar energy, convert corn and other organics into biodiesel, create cars that go 100 miles on a gallon. There’s plenty of work to do to perfect all this, but nothing that a concerted effort from the world’s greatest nation couldn’t conquer.Think of the jobs created, the reduction in pollution and greenhouse gases, the example we’d set for the world for the next century, the next millennium. We’d ensure our energy future and stop poking our noses in troublesome regions that happen to be flush with oil. The American people are ready for it. Everyone sees the folly of staking our economy on non-renewable resources. All we need is true leadership to set the wheels in motion.It’s sad that it won’t happen with the current leadership, but it’s what we should all be thinking about when we look toward 2008.Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14625, or firstname.lastname@example.org.