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Successful Politicians…Failing Leaders (3rd Installment)

April 1, 2015

Note: This is the final in a series of three opinion pieces. Each installment includes the same opening and closing. The middle section of this installment provides different thoughts from each of the first two.

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 contend that the President fails on traits 4 through 7.  Allow me to summarize what Peter Economy says about these four traits.  People work best in an environment where they are allowed to speak up and tell the truth without fear of punishment.  Highly effective leaders exude the belief that they and their team can accomplish all that needs to be done.  Economy writes that “Tentative leaders make for tentative employees.”  Channels for two-way communication between leaders and those being led are essential to success in any endeavor.  On the need to be decisive, what Economy writes is so important that I will quote it here:

“One of the most basic duties of any leader is to make decisions.  Highly effective leaders aren’t afraid to be decisive and to make tough calls quickly when circumstances require it.  Once you have all the information you need to make an informed decision, then don’t hesitate—make it.  And once you make the decision, then stick with it unless there is a particularly compelling reason for you to change it.”

Because of their interrelatedness these four traits may be looked at as a package.  That is, they complement one another.  For example, communication contributes to timely appropriate decisions and the two together feed a positive team mentality while the resulting successes foster organizational confidence.

Given this closely-knit package of traits, the question is how does President Obama measure up when examined in light of this package?  In answering this question, one might start by looking at the President’s “out the gate” opening with Congressional Republicans after his 2008 election.  A report at conservativecave.com says the following:

The decline of the Obama presidency can be traced to a meeting at the White House just three days after the inauguration, when the new president gathered congressional leaders of both parties to discuss his proposed economic stimulus. House Republican Whip Eric Cantor gave President Obama a list of modest proposals for the bill. Obama said he would consider the GOP ideas, but told the assembled Republicans that “elections have consequences” and “I won.” Backed by the largest congressional majorities in decades, the president was not terribly interested in giving ground to his vanquished adversaries.

I realize Republicans would not be seen as part of the Obama team, but proper functioning of our form of government requires that the Executive and Legislative branches be able to work together for the good of America.  By no stretch of the imagination has that “working together” happened since that third day after the 2009 Presidential Inauguration.  The primary cause can be traced back to the attitude reflected in the President by his “consequences…I won” statement.  This is the kind of attitude that would lead him to now govern with his “pen and phone.”  That is, whether addressing immigration, health care, energy policy, the national debt and spending, Israeli/Palestinian issues, Iran’s press for nuclear weapons capability and their support of terrorism around the world, the threat of terror from ISSIS and a myriad of other Islamist terrorist organizations, along with what seems to be a thousand other destructive issues, President Obama’s approach is to act as he sees fit no matter what Congress or anybody else says to the contrary.  This course of action flies in the face of not only the four leadership traits being addressed here, but all seven.

Add to this what seems to be the President’s thinking on America’s role in the world.  On 28 May 2014, Paul Mirengoff posted and an article titled “Obama’s insulting version of American exceptionalism.”   He quoted the President as saying at a West Point speech, “What makes us exceptional is not flouting international norms and the rule of law; it’s our willingness to affirm them through our actions.”  Mirengoff follows with this assessment:

But, by definition, the willingness to affirm international norms and rules cannot make us exceptional. These norms wouldn’t be norms if affirming them was exceptional.  Every Tom, Dick, and Harry Western European democracy affirms the norms Obama is talking about. In fact, it was their nagging, in part, that led us to make them a fetish. The concept of American exceptionalism probably dates back to Alexis de Tocqueville. He observed many distinctive features of America — our republican form of government, our industriousness, our focus on the practical, our religiousness, our community spirit, etc. Adherence to international norms played no part in Tocqueville’s account of American exceptionalism; if it had, the Frenchman would have become a laughingstock instead of a sage.

I contend the President’s view of America’s role in the world and Mirengoff’s accurate assessment of that view show Obama as lacking confidence in what has been this Country’s formula for greatness.  Yes, I recognize that we are not perfect as a nation and we have had and still have our challenges.  However, there must still be something here worth preserving given the tremendous risks others take in attempting to get here.  The Obama approach defies all that de Tocqueville saw and paints us as just another nation seeking to meet the world’s norms.  No wonder a February 2014 Pew Research poll found that only 24% of those surveyed said they trust the government in Washington always or most of the time.  Regarding our international relationships, a multitude of people are saying, “Our friends don’t trust us and our enemies don’t fear us.”  This is why Saudi Arabia and other Mideast countries are cooperating in bombing Yemen and did not bother to tell the U.S. they were doing so.  This is a president who lacks confidence in the American approach and the result is little confidence in America on the part of our citizens and those countries we counted as friends…especially Israel.

All that I have outlined here and in the first two articles describes a president whose indecisiveness should not surprise anyone.  From years of failing to make a decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline to not acting on his “Red Line” in Syria and still pondering providing arms to Ukraine as those people struggle against Russian aggression, indecisiveness is the guaranteed result where Peter Economy’s leadership traits are absent.  Let me be clear, the case I make is that President Obama is a prime example of what happens when these traits are missing in a leader, but the fact is that he is not alone.  To varying extents, far too many governmental leaders are deficient in these traits.

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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