As a high profile CEO I am often asked to speak about the issue of leadership. Are leaders born or taught? Are there ethical responsibilities required of a good leader? What is the skill set involved, and so on and so forth. Frequently, the questions come to me from students forced to find the answers as part of an end term project or as part of their search for a mentor. In thinking about these issues and brooding about our future leaders, I must ask – are politicians born with their fingers and toes crossed?
I understand the ethereal quality of campaign promises and the motivational character of stump rhetoric. I understand that it is impossible to control all variables and not be able to affect a pledged outcome. I absolutely understand the prerogative to change one’s mind. I do not, however, understand breaking promises that can be kept, the denying a past statements despite the fact that they can be resurrected, edited and converted into an ad in a matter of minutes, and the apparent notion that expected leadership skills and ethics don’t apply when said “CEOs” are government officials.
We are in a difficult time. Two wars, a poor economy, global warming, nuclear arms threats, increasing poverty pockets, terrorism, a pandemic and a nation that simply distrusts every other word uttered by our political leaders, media pundits and even government officials vouching for the safety of swine flu vaccines.
On the eve of a new year, can we not ask our politicians, from the top down, to resolve to lead from the front of the pack rather than the foggy dark of a back room and to simply tell the truth? As the most visible leaders would they not set an example to those in the private sector as well? Could they not say:
I campaigned on this promise – but I couldn’t get it through this session.
I promised to do this but I changed my mind for the following reasons.
The system didn’t work and I’m looking into why.
I made a mistake.
Or, as Steve Martin put it – excuse me.
The consequence of not so resolving is a nation suffering from stagnation, fear, protectionism, and an inchoate sense of isolation. Simply put – the populace remains frozen in place in a heightened state of distrust and a psyche that rationalizes any action to survive – or win. This example of leadership produces nothing at present, and murders future generations of leaders by teaching them nothing.