What Is A Leader?
There has been a perpetual knot in the pit of my stomach throughout this election season. Because of its historic nature, more people than ever before have been paying attention, listening to debates, weighing in….that’s absolutely wonderful! The pit in my stomach, however, is formed by our “election season” definitions of leadership.
- Leadership is not a good speech. However, a good speech articulating a compelling vision can capture the imagine of people who will want to follow you to where that vision leads.
- Your leadership is certainly not affirmed by merely listing the other person’s inadequacies.
- Leadership reaches for the best in people. It does not reach down for the lowest common denominator of our humanity — our shared brokenness, our biases, our fears — in order to “organize” us in an “us against them” fight against all who are not like us.
I am asking the same questions of every candidate who seeks to lead: what’s your vision for our future? Who do you think needs to be involved in realizing that future? Where am I and the issues I care about in that vision?
Because I believe in growing and stretching and don’t trust leaders who promise and preach the familiar, easy roads devoid of any of the incredible challenges and gray areas that so define our times, I want to know — will your leadership and vision encourage me to stretch? If we try to take the path you are suggesting, will we leave the world a better place or will we just have more useless stuff in our own closets, more food in our own refrigerators, more enemies around the world, more stuff, stuff, stuff just for us?
A leader who does not fundamentally understand that we have no future if we continue to do the same things we have always done with respect to our children is a leader who does not comprehend the questions of our times. What kind of country we will be in twenty years has everything to do with the decisions we make for children’s interests today. Our strength and vitality is not about dollars but about decisions. There is no future strength and vitality for us without children who benefit today from our willingness to stretch and invest in them, in us.
The leadership question is not “how can we cut health care costs?” The leadership question is “what do we need to do to grow healthy people, healthy communities?”
I don’t want a leader to give me a good answer. I want leaders who, in the words of CNN commentator Fareed Zakaria, have taken the time to understand the questions that define our times. If you don’t get the questions, chances are that your answers won’t help us very much. Leadership is not about being quick with the answers for people — it’s more about being willing to walk with people through the rough, self-interest stripping terrain of the questions.
And, what in the world are we going to do if we continue to elect leaders with no questions, no vision for children, no vision for us, no vision for the future?