I am optimistic that the people of the United States of America will realize one day that talk is cheap and actions speak louder than words, and that the true measure of great leadership will be recognized. Ok. So how many of you have been in a position of authority – say C-level of a corporation, or even a director of a University department for example? One of the things that occurs is that you are responsible for everything that happens below you: all decisions that are made reflect on you and chances are you haven’t a clue as to what is going on. In the corporate world, C-level executives rely on underlings to provide them information. Typically this information is fragmentary, inaccurate, misdirected and suspect. A good C-level executive is a processor of fragmentary information – one who can extract both direction and policy from partial data and at the same time filter that data for accuracy and for the agendas of the source. If decisions and policies that result are “good” 51% of the time, then that leader or executive is considered a good leader. If “good” decisions are made, say 60%, of the time, that executive is a great leader.
Contrast that to Washington. In Washington, everyone has an agenda, and they are similar to those in corporate worlds, e.g., related to obtaining power and weath. But the number of agendas is so great and noise input so much higher, that quantity becomes a quality in itself. During Jimmy Carter’s presidency, he become so immersed in the details of management of the country that he forgot to lead. Ronald Reagan was considered a great leader because he left the management details to others but was an astute processor of information and could extract reasonable policy from the morass of data forwarded to him.
A good leader establishes a vision of where he wants to be, or where he wants the country to be, and then conveys that vision through directives and orders to his staff. The vision then flows down to the next level of government until the directives become so vague as to be unactionable. Think of a Xerox copy of a copy. After a certain number of copies, the final one is unreadable. Working up from the bottom are personal agendas. Optimistically, these agendas are based on honest visions of where the country needs to be, which may differ from that vision established by the executive. Practically, there are a lot of assholes out there that don’t have any vision other than to provide for themselves. Both , however, act as noise against the vision of the executive.
A successful executive must formulate a strong and simple vision, convey it with enthusiasm and clarity, and defend it with passion and agressive action. More so in the Government where the amount of noise is constant and large. I am not sure that anyone, even ‘W’ himself, would have been able to define the vision of Bush 43 in the first months of his presidency prior to 911. Mostly, he was elected because the Democrats were visionless. 911 defined Bush and forced him to elucidate a clear vision for the country. People responded. The last presidential election was a mandate for vision and leadership. People want leaders who espouse clear and powerful visions, and support to those who do. And even if that vision may differ in aspects from their personal views, they will, in general, stand with a President who displays leadership.
In some sense, George W Bush created the perfect mission for America—defeat terrorism. His vision is to defeat it by promoting democracy in regions which have never seen democracy. Yes, this is problematic—no infrastructure or rule of law exists in those areas—but the vision is simple. The mission is straightforward and supportable by almost anyone. The vision is clear and reproducible and is able to be pushed down many levels before being buried in the noise of Washington. The Democrats can sense this and constantly provide noise (but notice that they cannot even dent the mission and vision—to do so would be political suicide). At best, Bush will be viewed in history as a great leader. At worst, he will be judged as a good leader hobbled by the noise of his own party and the Democratic opposition.
Greatness is achieved by standing for something. The current crop of Democrats are against things. Greatness is not achieved by opposition. When Bush wanted to hold Iraq troop levels constant per the advice of Rumsfeldt, Democrats in Congress inisted that more troops were required. When Bush appointed Petraeus and wanted a “surge” in troops in Bagdad, Democrats in Congress positioned themselves against the surge. In fact, one might say that the Democrats are are defined by Bush – they are the Bush antithesis. Which bodes poorly for them when Bush goes away (Hello Jeb?).