Defining leadership

The debacle surrounding this year’s presidential election brought to light many issues relating to democracy and leadership.

While we will most likely see many policy changes as a result of the chaos that ensued after the election, one debate that will never be put to rest concerns the definition of a true leader.

In trying to halt the Florida recount, and to sway Al Gore to back down, George W. Bush’s camp argued that a leader should be decisive and magnanimous and concede to the larger interest of the people. While Bush wasn’t willing to tailor his own behavior to fit that definition, he righteously tried to force those expectations on Gore.

Bush’s message was clear: If you had the people’s best interests in mind over your own, you would give up your fight.

Bush tried to assume the role of leader by planning his transition and his new administration while the results of the election were still in limbo. A good leader takes responsibility, and is prepared, was his explanation.

Gore, on the other hand, charged Bush with being arrogant, and not respecting the promises of democracy and the rights of the people. Gore defended his actions by calling on his own definition of what a leader should be — a leader should fight until the very end, in any possible, legal and responsible way. And a leader doesn’t take command until officially called to do so.

Chances are, you agreed with the leadership qualities exhibited by the person you voted for. (I know I did, and I won’t tell you who that was.) Supporters of each candidate accused the other of acting selfishly. Gore was selfish for not giving up; Bush was selfish for planning an administration before the final vote was counted.

But how many leaders do you know, including yourself (be honest), who don’t exhibit selfish qualities?

I believe that holding firm to your ideals is a critical quality for a good leader. And it is that quality that is often defined as selfishness.

Face it, even in a democracy, and always in a private business, a leader must make hard and fast decisions. And those decisions may not always appear to support the interests of the constituency — whether that constituency is your customer base or your employees.

The defining moment comes when the results of your decision materialize. Only then can you accurately judge your actions. Connie Swenson ([email protected]) is editor of SBN.