AMERICANS HOPE FOR AUTHENTIC LEADERSHIP
September 27, 2009
When we think of great leadership, two names come to mind immediately: Winston Churchill and Ronald Reagan. Each motivated others with their vigilant zeal, authentic credibility, and virtuous courage. And that is what leadership is all about.
Churchill was faced with the onslaught of German Wehrrmacht that surged with a vengeance over Europe. Winston Churchill, with his authentic resolve , lead the British people with valor and a determination to defeat the warring Nazis. President Reagan, with optimism and vigilance, promoted pride in America as a noble nation and stirred within the hearts of the American people the cause of liberty and freedom. It was his authentic resolve, along with that of the American people, that fatally damaged the evil empire of the Soviet Union and championed the cause of American Exceptionalism. Both of these leaders accomplished much by their authentic will power and valiant courage.
President Obama is now the leader of the greatest nation in the world. He is untested, and is facing troubling events in Afghanistan, Iran , Iraq, and is being tested by North Korea, Russia, China, and others. Domestically, he is facing burgeoning challenges, the economy and heath care are front and center. His leadership style is coming under careful scrutiny. He is an eloquent orator with a charismatic personality and yet, the American public appears to be rapidly losing confidence in his ability to deal effectively with these soaring and vexing problems.
Recently, the Associated Press-Ipos poll found that 55 percent of those surveyed considers authenticity, honesty, integrity, and competence as the most important leadership traits for any leader to possess. The poll indicates that the one most important trait for a leader is to be authentic, in other words, "to be truly one's self". In fact, great leaders, at whatever level of government, must know themselves so they can be themselves. For what lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters as compared to what lies within us. The public will figure out quickly one who is less than genuine and/or who fails to understand the real feelings of that which is in the hearts and minds of the people. In short, as is the perceived level of authenticity of an individual so is the level of confidence one has in that individual. There is one enduring principle that never fails... the currency or strength of leadership comes from credibility.
Authentic leaders are interested in empowering the people they lead rather than being interested in power or prestige for themselves. They are guided by ideals, passion, knowledge, and principle. Authentic leaders use their natural abilities and sense of values as a compass. At the same time, they recognize their own shortcomings and work hard to overcome them. They lead with knowledge, purpose, principle and honesty. Authentic leaders build enduring relationships with people, because they recognize that they are OF the people, brought to where they are BY the people, and render service FOR the people.
One cannot help but wonder... where is the civility and moral authority we knew and so admired in Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Jack Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan; or, in the role model of such foreign luminaries as Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill? Americans are searching today for models of virtue as exemplified by some of our greatest leaders... true heroes, if you will.
The role of authority in government is not only to uphold moral, ethical, and intellectual standards but also to guarantee social and political freedom, and to act as a barrier against centralized, arbitrary, and despotic power. We use authority to protect our rights, to provide order and security, to manage conflict, and to protect individual freedoms. The authority of the American government originates from the Constitution. The moral authority consists of the felt obligations and duties from shared community values, ideas, and ideals. From a democratic perspective, the very nature of authority must be moral in form and content. Moral authority rests on voluntary consent. Democracy, by definition, cannot exist without values. And that is what is central in the minds and hearts of the American people today.
The government is only as good, decent, and moral as its citizens. Individual integrity, responsibility, and accountability are the best check on political abuse. Americans must find the common themes and values that transcend our ever deepening cultural differences. We must all be able to identify, articulate, and appreciate the core values of America. We need to reaffirm our national civic values--the principles embodied in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights--that bring us together as a people. Our core beliefs of principle and honor must be a guide to our actions.
President John F. Kennedy said it well, "Courage, not complacency is our need today. Leadership not salesmanship is what is required." To put it bluntly, we are right to demand authentic character of our leaders and to believe that character and discipline is inseparable from moral leadership. It was John Locke who said "The discipline of desire is the background of character... for the actions of men are the best interpreters of their thoughts." In effect, when authentic character is lacking, the public will lose confidence and the government becomes ineffectual. And this is true be they a school board member, a village, town, state, or federal office holder or the President of the United States.
Americans, by and large, are a good people. They are searching to support noble leaders of virtue at whatever level of service. For that is the America way and that is what American Exceptionalism is all about. That is how we see it FROM OUR PERSPECTIVE.