Real leadership asks real questions.

Where Have All the Leaders Gone?I think that Lee Iacocca is firing on all cylinders with this excerpt from his new book: Where Have All the Leaders Gone?

This is making its way around as a viral e-mail. I thought I’d post it again here (it’s from the Amazon excerpt) I’m smart enough to leave his words alone- and just ask for your thoughts-

Had enough?

Am I the only guy in this country who’s fed up with what’s happening? Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. We’ve got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we’ve got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can’t even clean up after a hurricane much less build a hybrid car. But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, “Stay the course.”

Stay the course? You’ve got to be kidding. This is America, not the damned Titanic. I’ll give you a sound bite: Throw the bums out!

You might think I’m getting senile, that I’ve gone off my rocker, and maybe I have. But someone has to speak up. I hardly recognize this country anymore. The President of the United States is given a free pass to ignore the Constitution, tap our phones, and lead us to war on a pack of lies. Congress responds to record deficits by passing a huge tax cut for the wealthy (thanks, but I don’t need it). The most famous business leaders are not the innovators but the guys in handcuffs. While we’re fiddling in Iraq, the Middle East is burning and nobody seems to know what to do. And the press is waving pom-poms instead of asking hard questions. That’s not the promise of America my parents and yours traveled across the ocean for. I’ve had enough. How about you?

I’ll go a step further. You can’t call yourself a patriot if you’re not outraged. This is a fight I’m ready and willing to have.

My friends tell me to calm down. They say, “Lee, you’re eighty-two years old. Leave the rage to the young people.” I’d love to — as soon as I can pry them away from their iPods for five seconds and get them to pay attention. I’m going to speak up because it’s my patriotic duty. I think people will listen to me. They say I have a reputation as a straight shooter. So I’ll tell you how I see it, and it’s not pretty, but at least it’s real. I’m hoping to strike a nerve in those young folks who say they don’t vote because they don’t trust politicians to represent their interests. Hey, America, wake up. These guys work for us.

WHO ARE THESE GUYS, ANYWAY?

Why are we in this mess? How did we end up with this crowd in Washington? Well, we voted for them — or at least some of us did. But I’ll tell you what we didn’t do. We didn’t agree to suspend the Constitution. We didn’t agree to stop asking questions or demanding answers. Some of us are sick and tired of people who call free speech treason. Where I come from that’s a dictatorship, not a democracy.

And don’t tell me it’s all the fault of right-wing Republicans or liberal Democrats. That’s an intellectually lazy argument, and it’s part of the reason we’re in this stew. We’re not just a nation of factions. We’re a people. We share common principles and ideals. And we rise and fall together.

Where are the voices of leaders who can inspire us to action and make us stand taller? What happened to the strong and resolute party of Lincoln? What happened to the courageous, populist party of FDR and Truman? There was a time in this country when the voices of great leaders lifted us up and made us want to do better. Where have all the leaders gone?

THE TEST OF A LEADER

I’ve never been Commander in Chief, but I’ve been a CEO. I understand a few things about leadership at the top. I’ve figured out nine points — not ten (I don’t want people accusing me of thinking I’m Moses). I call them the “Nine Cs of Leadership.” They’re not fancy or complicated. Just clear, obvious qualities that every true leader should have. We should look at how the current administration stacks up. Like it or not, this crew is going to be around until January 2009. Maybe we can learn something before we go to the polls in 2008. Then let’s be sure we use the leadership test to screen the candidates who say they want to run the country. It’s up to us to choose wisely.

So, here’s my C list:

A leader has to show CURIOSITY. He has to listen to people outside of the “Yes, sir” crowd in his inner circle. He has to read voraciously, because the world is a big, complicated place. George W. Bush brags about never reading a newspaper. “I just scan the headlines,” he says. Am I hearing this right? He’s the President of the United States and he never reads a newspaper? Thomas Jefferson once said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate for a moment to prefer the latter.” Bush disagrees. As long as he gets his daily hour in the gym, with Fox News piped through the sound system, he’s ready to go.

If a leader never steps outside his comfort zone to hear different ideas, he grows stale. If he doesn’t put his beliefs to the test, how does he know he’s right? The inability to listen is a form of arrogance. It means either you think you already know it all, or you just don’t care. Before the 2006 election, George Bush made a big point of saying he didn’t listen to the polls. Yeah, that’s what they all say when the polls stink. But maybe he should have listened, because 70 percent of the people were saying he was on the wrong track. It took a “thumping” on election day to wake him up, but even then you got the feeling he wasn’t listening so much as he was calculating how to do a better job of convincing everyone he was right.

A leader has to be CREATIVE, go out on a limb, be willing to try something different. You know, think outside the box. George Bush prides himself on never changing, even as the world around him is spinning out of control. God forbid someone should accuse him of flip-flopping. There’s a disturbingly messianic fervor to his certainty. Senator Joe Biden recalled a conversation he had with Bush a few months after our troops marched into Baghdad. Joe was in the Oval Office outlining his concerns to the President — the explosive mix of Shiite and Sunni, the disbanded Iraqi army, the problems securing the oil fields. “The President was serene,” Joe recalled. “He told me he was sure that we were on the right course and that all would be well. ‘Mr. President,’ I finally said, ‘how can you be so sure when you don’t yet know all the facts?'” Bush then reached over and put a steadying hand on Joe’s shoulder. “My instincts,” he said. “My instincts.” Joe was flabbergasted. He told Bush, “Mr. President, your instincts aren’t good enough.” Joe Biden sure didn’t think the matter was settled. And, as we all know now, it wasn’t.

Leadership is all about managing change — whether you’re leading a company or leading a country. Things change, and you get creative. You adapt. Maybe Bush was absent the day they covered that at Harvard Business School.

A leader has to COMMUNICATE. I’m not talking about running off at the mouth or spouting sound bites. I’m talking about facing reality and telling the truth. Nobody in the current administration seems to know how to talk straight anymore. Instead, they spend most of their time trying to convince us that things are not really as bad as they seem. I don’t know if it’s denial or dishonesty, but it can start to drive you crazy after a while. Communication has to start with telling the truth, even when it’s painful. The war in Iraq has been, among other things, a grand failure of communication. Bush is like the boy who didn’t cry wolf when the wolf was at the door. After years of being told that all is well, even as the casualties and chaos mount, we’ve stopped listening to him.

A leader has to be a person of CHARACTER. That means knowing the difference between right and wrong and having the guts to do the right thing. Abraham Lincoln once said, “If you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” George Bush has a lot of power. What does it say about his character? Bush has shown a willingness to take bold action on the world stage because he has the power, but he shows little regard for the grievous consequences. He has sent our troops (not to mention hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi citizens) to their deaths — for what? To build our oil reserves? To avenge his daddy because Saddam Hussein once tried to have him killed? To show his daddy he’s tougher? The motivations behind the war in Iraq are questionable, and the execution of the war has been a disaster. A man of character does not ask a single soldier to die for a failed policy.

A leader must have COURAGE. I’m talking about balls. (That even goes for female leaders.) Swagger isn’t courage. Tough talk isn’t courage. George Bush comes from a blue-blooded Connecticut family, but he likes to talk like a cowboy. You know, My gun is bigger than your

gun. Courage in the twenty-first century doesn’t mean posturing and bravado. Courage is a commitment to sit down at the negotiating table and talk.

If you’re a politician, courage means taking a position even when you know it will cost you votes. Bush can’t even make a public appearance unless the audience has been handpicked and sanitized. He did a series of so-called town hall meetings last year, in auditoriums packed with his most devoted fans. The questions were all softballs.

To be a leader you’ve got to have CONVICTION — a fire in your belly. You’ve got to have passion. You’ve got to really want to get something done. How do you measure fire in the belly? Bush has set the all-time record for number of vacation days taken by a U.S. President — four hundred and counting. He’d rather clear brush on his ranch than immerse himself in the business of governing. He even told an interviewer that the high point of his presidency so far was catching a seven-and-a-half-pound perch in his hand-stocked lake.

It’s no better on Capitol Hill. Congress was in session only ninety-seven days in 2006. That’s eleven days less than the record set in 1948, when President Harry Truman coined the term do-nothing Congress. Most people would expect to be fired if …

What are your thoughts?

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6 Responses

  1. pizzabill April 25, 2008 / 7:20 am
    My favorite quote on the state of leadership in the US today:

    “There go my people. I must catch up to them and find out where they’re going so I can lead them.”

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  2. Joel April 30, 2008 / 7:46 pm
    I’ve been meaning to comment on this post for days, and I’m glad someone who can certifiably called “pro-business” is stepping up to the plate in such a big way to call W out on his lack of leadership.

    If I’m ever in a position to lead in a business environment, you bet these 9 C’s will be the first thing I read every morning. In fact, I post-it-ed them to my monitor- because they are really good guiding principles for everyone.

    W’s only legacy will be that he did absolutely nothing correctly. That puts him in the echelon of wonderful former presidents like Filmore and Buchanan. Let’s just hope his successor is every bit like Buchanan’s successor.

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  3. David Esrati May 1, 2008 / 5:32 am

    Joel is hoping for another Lincoln-
    Somehow, I don’t see it being another Republican.
    I’ve left this post up for days- hoping for more comments, and you’ve all been pretty quiet.
    I’m surprised.
    New post coming soon.

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  4. Joel May 1, 2008 / 7:24 am
    Yes- I am waiting for another Lincoln. Or Roosevelt (either, really). Or Eisenhower. Or Kennedy. Just someone to provide leadership.

    The story that I always liked most about Lincoln was about how at the beginning of the Civil War he knew that he had a total lack of knowledge about military tactics and strategy. So what did he do? He spent his nights in libraries studying military tactics and strategy in order to make himself a better leader. And by the end of the war- most historians agree that he was one of the best presidents in regards to military leadership.

    And no, I don’t think that there is a Republican alive now that would match the leadership of Lincoln. In fact, the party would probably be utterly unrecognizable if Lincoln saw it today.

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  5. Pedro May 1, 2008 / 10:15 pm
    Joel I am as big a Lincoln fan as you will find, but he did not form military strategy from the White House like, say, LBJ did (disastrously). In fact Lincoln was quite out of touch in the beginning of the war as to just what it would take to win. He picked bad generals in the early years. McClellan, Burnside, Meade and Hooker all allowed the South to achieve victory in key battles. The Civil War was fought in two phases, before Grant and after Grant. Lincoln’s brilliance was his will to stay the course in the face of draft riots in his largest city, and his former top general (McClellan) running against him in the 1864 election as a Democrat promising to end the war. We revere Lincoln now, but in his lifetime he was hated by his countrymen, North & South. His assassination immortalized him and today we recognize him as the greatest president we could have hoped for in that moment of our history. But we too often forget how unpopular that war was as it was being waged, almost hard to believe a whole political party was ready to sue for peace and negotiate with the Southern Slave States. Lincoln’s will to do what was necessary to preserve the union, no matter how he was judged at the time, made the difference (that and the smarts to give total command to Grant and his rottweiler W. Tecumseh Sherman).
    Lincoln was not going to negotiate with evil, he was going to confront it; he paid with his life and we received a more perfect union. That was Lincoln’s leadership legacy.

    P.S. Kennedy? Leadership? C’mon Joel.

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  6. David Esrati May 1, 2008 / 11:05 pm

    And- the reality is, we don’t really have elections, we have popularity contests and auctions now.
    I think Lincoln would have lost at both.

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