Where are our leaders in this time of crisis?
Whether from fear or sympathy, some of our mayors and governors have recently allowed rioters to destroy cities, topple statues, and break the law without fear of repercussions. These public officials are supposed to protect all of their constituents, and public safety and protection of private property are surely their first duties to voters. So where were they during this looting and destruction?
COVID-19 has brought directives and pontifications from our governors, but few examples of real leadership. In Pennsylvania, for example, Governor Tom Wolfe recently decreed that everyone must wear masks in public. You could be walking alone on a country road, and now you’re supposed to wear a cover over your nose and mouth. The number of masked pedestrians I saw on my drive through Downtown Scranton revealed that most people are willing to abide by this directive.
Despite declining death rates from the virus, our leaders continue to issue orders regardless of their effects on the economy or citizens’ morale. Meanwhile, members of Congress seem to do little other than wage war on President Trump. The Democrats’ candidate for president, Joe Biden, spends much of his time in lockdown in his basement. Where are the uplifting words of hope?
Never in the almost 70 years of my life have I seen such uninspiring leadership among our politicians. Bewildered Americans, depressed by confinement, shutdowns, and violent demonstrations, receive little encouragement from this band of feckless commanders.
In The Leader’s Bookshelf by retired Admiral James Stavridis and co-author R. Manning Ancell, we learn how real leaders boost morale and take charge of a situation.
Here Stavridis and Ancell “surveyed more than two hundred active and retired four-star military officers about their reading habits and favorite books.” These officers cite scores of authors who have influenced their styles of leadership. Works include Douglas Southall Freeman’s Lee’s Lieutenants, Ladislas Farago’s Patton: Ordeal and Triumph, the sea novels of Patrick O’Brian, and even Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.
First these generals and admirals explain how and why a particular book enhanced their leadership skills. Then Stavridis and Ancell discuss the author and the book in a couple of pages before summarizing the leadership lessons offered in these novels, histories, and biographies. In these summaries we learn a few important traits of successful leaders.
Lead as a Servant
In Chapter 5 of The Leader’s Bookshelf, we find this quote from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War: “Treat your men as you would your own beloved sons and they will follow you into the deepest valley.” Chapter 3, which offers the Bible as a textbook for leadership, offers us Christ acting as a servant by washing the feet of his Apostles.
Are there any contemporary political leaders who actually seem more a servant than a master?
Have A Sense of Humor
In reviewing The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965, Stavridis and Ancell comment on Winston Churchill’s ability to laugh at himself. Our leaders today, particularly those on the left, are about as joyless a bunch as has ever marched down the pike.
We need some laughter right now, some self-deprecating humor, but we won’t be getting it from our politicians.
Display Constant Optimism
Knowing that everyone is looking, leaders must be optimistic no matter how dark the clouds overhead. The authors attribute this characteristic to Dwight Eisenhower. I would also include another president from my lifetime, Ronald Reagan, and a Democrat, Hubert Humphrey, who was known as “The Happy Warrior.” President Trump displays that same optimism, but he often spoils it with his negative tweets.
What leaders in 2020 point us to a brighter future or challenge us to overcome our circumstances?
Lead From the Front
In their discussion of Karl Marlantes’ Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War, Stavridis and Ancell summarize the leadership lessons of that book as “The enlisted troops want someone to whom they look for decisions that lead to success without squandering lives needlessly.”
All of us look for leaders who can not only make decisions that save lives, but also decisions that enhance our lives.
General Stephen R. Lorenz of the U.S. Air Force selected David McCullough’s Truman and writes that the example of leaders who have gone before us “shows you the way others have persevered and succeeded.” A Truman quotation from that book runs “I am here to make decisions, and whether they prove right or wrong, I am going to make them.”
As president, Truman was also famous for the slogan, “The buck stops here.”
How many of our mayors, governors, and members of Congress have the guts to say that today?
All too often today, our leaders are afraid of stepping up to the plate. They are afraid to help the guy with the hardware store ensure his windows don’t get smashed. They are afraid of opening up the economy because of COVID-19. They are afraid of losing their power and position.
Consequently, they are failing the leadership test.
Near the end of The Leader’s Bookshelf, Stavridis and Ancell write, “there are two truths that run throughout all of the books.” The first is that “a leader must bring order out of chaos.” The second, frequently used by Napoleon, is that “a leader is a dealer in hope.”
Sadly, most of our present-day leaders fail to see either of these truths.