The Leadership Vacuum

Posted on 10. Sep, 2012 by in Gary's Blog

Almost daily, the news media bombards us with the message that America is in crisis.  There’s the economic crisis.  The financial crisis.  The healthcare crisis.  The business integrity crisis.  The education crisis.   The immigration crisis.  However, there’s one crisis no one is talking about— it’s our LEADERSHIP CRISIS.

A definition of leadership is: the ability to create a positive vision for the future and guide or direct others in that direction. We’re in crisis mode — which leaders are making things better?

The political arena is a nightmare.  Congress is at an appalling 17% approval rate and yet obstructionism rules the day. How do elected officials sleep at night when they are charged with doing “the people’s business” and 83% of the people think they’re doing a terrible job?  The Senate couldn’t even pass the Disclosure Act, which would have created transparency regarding political donations on both sides of the aisle.  It’s astonishing that no one in either chamber has the courage to rise above partisanship to break the incredible legislative logjam when “the people” desperately need help.   There’s not much to cheer in the Presidential race; it’s already one giant negative shouting match.

The business front isn’t much better.  While rogue trading and LIBOR rigging are current hot topics, financial leaders are staunchly opposed to increasing controls that could avoid such disasters.  Adding insult to injury, you have corporate boards lavishing CEO’s with outsized pay packages, while the people doing the real work are struggling with the pressure of doing a lot more with a lot less.

And in sports, the very sad Gerry Sandusky/Joe Paterno spectacle has taken a coaching icon down several pegs.

How can this happen when so many important issues need to be addressed?

I believe strong and effective leadership is in short supply because many people in positions of power don’t really understand how to deliver it and worse many aren’t very open to learning how to do it.  Strong leadership is not about winning at all costs.  It’s not about beating your opponent into the ground. It’s not about dogma, charm or charisma.

Strong and effective leadership is about having a set of core beliefs and acting on them.  It’s about principles, integrity, authenticity, and candor.  It’s about the willingness to take smart risks and experiment with new ways of doing things.  And it requires a heavy dose of courage and personal accountability to stand up for your beliefs and not be afraid to admit when you screw things up.

I can hear the snickering already — how naïve can you be?  This isn’t Disneyland, this is the real world.  But in fact, people are craving effective leadership.  There is a reason President Obama’s campaign took off the way it did in 2008.  People were inspired and excited to have a leader promising Hope and Change.  The bad news for the president is there’s a price you pay for making a bold promise and not fully delivering on it.

Given our bleak leadership scenario what’s a country to do?  First we must recognize the significant consequences of this downward leadership spiral.  A recent AP article said that in an education survey of 34 countries, the U.S. ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science, 25th in math.   And in overall healthcare system performance, we’re ranked 37th. Are we satisfied being a middle-of-the-pack society?

Innovation and change that work in government, business, sports, communities, and even families don’t happen by chance or osmosis — or without some type of sacrifice.  For us to be a “shining city on the hill”, we need leaders who have a clear picture of what better looks like.  Leaders who have the courage to step up, push hard against the prevailing winds and resistance to change.  Leaders who will do the heavy lifting to get people to work together in a way that makes a difference.  Leaders who understand that to really succeed they must deliver tangible “wins” to defeat the cynical perception that people in positions of power only ”talk the talk”, but don’t have a clue how to walk it.

The bottom line:  For us to tackle our leadership crisis we need to admit we have one.  We need to blow a big hole in some basic assumptions about effective leadership.  And we need some courageous souls who are willing to step up and learn a few new tricks.  The good news about leadership is if they’re open to it — old dogs can learn new tricks!

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