Never before have so many from the country worried that White House “minders” may not be correctly “containing” the President. And it is not just POTUS — he of those self-described high I.Q.
— who arouses alarm. In agencies and most vital administrative departments, not to mention the halls of Congress, there’s a leadership void.
Amid the dizzying turbulence of this instant, we wait — seemingly in vain — to get honorable, courageous leaders to step onto the national phase. As we wait, we ask ourselves, how did we come to have a president who has sacrificed virtually all power? Can we elect a Congress in which a few of our agents speak out on behalf of their fundamentals America stands for, and against assaults that are ongoing to our fundamental liberties? How did our federal public discourse get compassion, kindness, and base and, at the exact same time of humanity?
As critical as these questions are, they beg an even larger one: what are we to do about this?
I’ve been studying the foundation of leadership and training present-day executives, managers, and entrepreneurs for at least 25 years at the Harvard Business School. From this vantage point, I feel that one of the central problems of leadership now is that we the people have mislaid our ability to identify the qualities which make leaders ready, competent, decent, and good.
We can identify effective leaders once we view them at our communities — teachers working overtime to educate our kids; physicians caring for cancer patients; grief counselors in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Texas, comforting the victims of senseless violence.
We recognize that what makes these people courageous leaders is that they put others first. In addition, we understand that, at the face of disappointment and failure, they dig deep within themselves to discover resilience and also to summon commitment that is renewed.
We understand all this about the leaders we all experience in everyday life. Nevertheless, in regards to supporting women and men seeking political office and higher power, we have misplaced such discernment.
On a national level, many people have been seduced by “shiny new objects” — what I call “leadership bling.” Too frequently, we’re dazzled by private vision that a person who was born hard-charging and who followed his or her self-interest all the way to jurisdiction, celebrity, or enormous wealth has to have accumulated wisdom.
Yes, many of our finest leaders exhibited great personal vision. For example, Abraham Lincoln was, in his early years, a dynamo of self indulgent, alchemizing a rather little amount of formal education
into peerless verbal proficiency, and he tried and failed — more than once — to gain national political office before finally winning the presidency.
And Rachel Carson, whose book “Silent Spring” warned of the danger of pesticides and whose ecological advocacy led off certain crisis, bucked the norms of her time to become educated in the sciences. In middle age, she continued working at her coping with health that was badly declining and writing despite the burdens of encouraging family members.
Yet, raw and fantasy self-interest took them only so far. As they embraced a purpose each subsumed their aspiration for this end and discovered validation and strength in the mission itself.
Too frequently, we have assumed that aggression, charm, and charisma are part of a natural-born pioneer’s personality and personality. We overlook that courageous leaders are not born; they are made. This “making” flows from somebody’s dedication to constantly better him or herself — first from within, and then in relation to the larger point. Courageous leaders ask more of themselves every day. They continually try to master the topics and actively seek to fill gaps in skills, knowledge and their psychological awareness.
We have to regain the intrinsic sense of what represents a fantastic pioneer, what he or she should be. But how do we make the flip? Where do we start?
In selecting among aspirants to public office especially, perhaps we should pay less attention to ambition and material achievement, and rather look to aspects of a individual’s competence and character, for example, adversity an individual has confronted and how they managed it.
Maybe we should ask, “Did this person grow wiser and more compassionate over the years or did they cling to a narrow vision of their self-interest?” Other crucial questions: “What lessons does this individual’s life offer and would I want my children to learn them as they prepare to create their own life journey?”
Several decades ago, American author David Foster Wallace provided a persuasive definition of real leaders
. They are people, Wallace wrote, who “help us overcome the limitations of our own individual laziness and selfishness and weakness and anxieties and get us to do better, tougher things than we can convince ourselves to do on our own.”
We want such leaders right now: men and women who’ll make us feel good about ourselves, our fellow citizens, and our national fate — instead of increasingly more embarrassing. We just must have leaders who’ll raise our standards of decency, service to others, and potential instead of continually lower them.
Join us on Twitter and Facebook
The obligation for such leadership falls not only on Washington, but on us. On the people of the excellent country rests the duty to place in power those who can build bridges, not hurl insults or cast out those who respectfully protest — individuals who recognize that our common humanity binds us all and is crucial to navigating the current turbulence.
As we look to the 2018 elections — a pair of contests critically important to our nation’s future — it is time to modify the questions we ask in appraising office-seekers. Meeting with the challenges ahead depends on electing, instead of anti-leaders, people who inspire us to do the hard things that the past tells us we’re capable of.