When I’d consider following someone down a dangerous path in my formative years, my Mother would ask: “Would you jump off a cliff just because he did?” More than once, I earned a lecture about thinking for myself and leading others up the high road. As a young leader, I translated that lesson into a phrase I picked up in the Army: “If it’s stupid, it’s not our policy!”
This week I’ve been thinking about our government shutdown. With their approval at 10% and moving toward the statistical error, picking on Congress would be popular but not very helpful. Also, as a retired general officer, it would be inappropriate. Still, our stalemate provides an important leadership lesson.
Our Constitution limits and distributes power between the branches of government. The checks and balances our founders developed created a firewall against passionate governing and called for cooperation to get things done. The founders anticipated passion but they also established a legacy of compromise in the creation of the document itself. I expect the Founders and my Mother might be looking down and wondering why we’ve all decided to jump off this cliff.
Leadership is difficult in a representative government. The President and Congressional leaders have power and authority but not enough to direct a solution so they have to exercise persuasive leadership–peer leadership—to get things done. Unfortunately leading peers is a risky and difficult task.
The government shut down, like all human problems, is a leadership issue. Someone has to emerge to say this is too stupid to be our policy and offer an acceptable alternative. Ultimately someone will and when they do, they’ll have the same characteristics, which enable leaders everywhere to step in front of their peers and solve problems. They are:
Character: It’s been said, “it is better to have character than to be a character.” The leader that emerges cannot have too many chinks in her armor, or she will get attacked from all angles. Her peers will trust her because she has a reputation for always doing the right thing.
Courage: When someone steps forward to lead the others, they will put their personal reputation and political future on the line. That takes guts but doing the right thing almost always does.
Cooperation: The leader who emerges will be known for their willingness to compromise and cooperate. This will not be their first cooperative rodeo but it may be the first time they’ve enlisted the support of others. Their previous cooperation will have paid this forward.
Maturity: It is not our nature to follow children. With the exception of entertainment and sports where youth is over served, we defer to age, experience, and maturity in most facets of our life. The leader who emerges will be one who has not sacrificed their “maturity cred” by acting like a child when things got difficult.
Wisdom: The leader who emerges will show others a solution they have been unable to envision themselves. He’ll find a way to solve this problem and perhaps avert a few others in the process.
Empathy: The leader who emerges will find a way to get this done and let everyone retain their dignity, unless, of course, they’ve already given that away themselves.
Selflessness: The leader who emerges in this crisis will be one who is willing to sacrifice his personal interest for the good of the Country. You cannot lead peers if they suspect you are taking charge to gain personal advantage.
Is this shutdown too stupid to be our policy? I welcome your thoughts?
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