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Successful Politicians…Failing Leaders

Note: This is the first in a series of three opinion pieces. Each will include the same opening and closing. The middle section of the second and third will provide different thoughts from the previous piece or pieces.

Dictionary.com defines a politician as “a seeker or holder of public office who is more concerned about winning favor or retaining power than about maintaining principles.” This is just one of several definitions provided by the reference. My observation is that we have far too many aspiring and elected officials to whom this definition applies. The fact that we as a nation have so many politicians as defined here explains why there are so few leaders in our nation; consequently, our county and the world are coming apart and clearly headed for disaster that might never be overcome. Because there are so many people who know how to win elections but care little or nothing about leading, our terrible circumstance is that we have a multitude of “Successful Politicians…Failing Leaders.”

Chief among these “Successful Politicians…Failing Leaders” is President Barack Obama. Here is a man who absolutely knows how to win elections. His ascendancy to the presidency in 2008 followed by reelection in 2012 when every indication was that he should have lost demonstrates his astounding ability to win elections. However, his campaigning, governing strategies and tactics defy all that is essential for effectively leading. An article by Peter Economy titled “7 Traits of Highly Effective Leaders” provides a framework for examining President Obama’s effectiveness in leading America and influencing the world for good. The writer talks about leading employees, but these traits apply to any person in a position of leadership. Here are Peter Economy’s 7 traits:

1. Inspire action.

2. Be optimistic.

3. Have integrity.

4. Support and facilitate your team.

5. Have confidence.

6. Communicate.

7. Be decisive.

Now to why I submit that the President fails on the first two traits.

Inspire Action: Inspiring people to act requires vision. That is, the ability to see what needs to be done in order to address a given problem or situation and present it in such a way that people can visualize the action and positive outcome. A prime example in this area is his failure to take advantage of a golden opportunity to lead the way to improved race relations in America. Consider the incident in Cambridge, Massachusetts where black Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was arrested for “loud and tumultuous behavior in a public space.” The President admitted “not having been there and not seeing all the facts,” but went on to declare the police “acted stupidly.” Before the facts were in, he took a similar position supportive of a view that the shooting and killing of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager, in Sanford, Florida by a non-black was related to Martin being black. When Michael Brown, an unarmed black eighteen year old, was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, the President’s comments followed his usual pattern. Given the unrest and heightened racial tension that was fueled in part by President Obama’s comments and tone, I contend he failed to come near inspiring positive action in these racially-charged situations.

A reasonable question is what would an effective leader have done in these circumstances? The first answer is encouraging calm, unity, and waiting for the facts in each case. President Obama said some of this, but not nearly with the force of conviction required to have weight. Not only would this message need to come directly from the president but also from other positively influential individuals on whom he could have called. Finally, a president should be about not just in crisis but at all times working to have every American feel respected and fairly treated. President Obama has like no other president in my life-time succeeded in dividing us by race, financial condition, religion, citizenship status, and even occupation. The division by way of occupation especially refers to the president seeming to always blame police officers for strained relations between them and black citizens. I do not hesitate to say all of the groups resulting from this dividing are manipulated one against the other for political gain.

Be Optimistic: Peter Economy writes: “We all want to work with and for people who lift us up into the clouds instead of dragging us down into the mud. Make sure you seek out the positives in your people, helping them overcome their own feelings of self-doubt and spreading optimism throughout your organization.” Under this heading, consider what President Obama said at the 2015 National Prayer Breakfast when talking about the horrible actions of radical Islamist terrorists (“radical Islamist terrorists” is my wording): “Lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.” In our time we are dealing with people who want to kill Americans and destroy our way of life, people who behead innocent individuals, and even in a cage burned a man to death. In a time when we are under attack and need reason to believe that there is a way out, the president goes back hundreds of years to make what point? I have no idea and will not speculate. However, this is the kind of comment he has made time and time again regarding America. When does he ever passionately speak in terms that inspire our citizens to optimism?  Certainly not here.

Finally: So, this lack of leadership by President Obama and too many other politicians is disappointing and scary. It is made worse by the fact that we are destroying this country and then passing it on to innocent young Americans. I get to talk with a very smart eleven year old boy about the happenings in our nation and world. In one of our conversations, he shared an ancient Indian quote with me. It says, “We did not inherit this earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” Those who are in positions of governmental leadership should give attention to the truth and weight of this statement…then act accordingly. Break free of being “politicians” as defined in the opening paragraph. Lead!!!

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