Is our Thelma & Louise-style race for the “fiscal cliff” the result of a deficit in leadership? Rep. John Boehner thinks so. He has repeatedly said, “This is a moment for adult leadership.” Meanwhile, President Barack Obama has done so little leading that during a Christmas tree lighting ceremony at the White House last week, Isaac Slade, lead singer of the band The Fray, used his microphone to say he wasn’t sure if Obama had been “naughty or nice” before adding that the president should “play some golf with Republicans.” Whatever you think of celebrities giving advice to presidents, one thing is certain: When the state of leadership dips this low, our elected leaders need to be reacquainted with what true leadership is.
For answers I turned to Pat Williams. Pat is a senior vice president of the NBA’s Orlando Magic and is a speaker who has addressed thousands of top executives on the topic of leadership. He is also the author of Leadership Excellence: The Seven Sides of Leadership for the 21st Century. I asked Pat to analyze the leadership being shown by both Obama and Boehner based on the seven principles of leadership he explains in his book.
Pat began by explaining that without a vision a leader simply doesn’t have a destination to lead people to. Such a leader, says Pat, is like the captain of a ship who’s adrift simply because he has no idea where to go. Pat points out that great leaders have real destinations and concrete plans on how to get there. He says, “George Washington wanted a United States of America. Abraham Lincoln wanted a nation undivided. Winston Churchill wanted a free Europe. Martin Luther King wanted a nation of equals. Ronald Reagan wanted a world without communism. But I have no idea what Barack Obama wants.”
In comparison, Pat agrees that Boehner, and the GOP, generally want a smaller government, a nation free of debt, and to keep the federal government from trampling on American’s personal freedoms; however, he adds that Republicans are too vague about their vision. They need to find a way to explain their vision to people who are not well-informed voters.
He also says Obama might have a vision, but if so, he doesn’t appear to be comfortable explaining it. This made me comment that perhaps the “Life of Julia” cartoon is meant to be a metaphor explaining his vision for cradle-to-grave entitlement programs. Pat isn’t sure. It’s just too opaque, he thinks. It’s not well articulated.
I ask if Obama’s vision might be for “social justice” or for using government to redistribute wealth so everyone has a “fair share.” Pat answers, “Maybe. He says those things. But that’s not clear either. Most people don’t know what he means by ‘social justice’ and how do you define ‘fair share’? Obama needs to put his personal agenda aside and communicate a vision that his party and the American people can get behind.”