Selecting The Best Leaders For The Millenium

As New Years Day 2008 approaches, I will pause form my series of columns on recruiting, selecting, appointing and electing the “Best Judges” to suggest that we resolve for the New Year to select not only the best Judges, but the best leaders for every branch of government as well as the private sector in 2008 and beyond.

Leadership has been defined in many ways. The one I like the best is by a political theorist named Benis. “The ability to translate ideas into reality and sustain them over time”. That ability encompasses a vision for the future, commitment and perhaps most importantly, a willingness to persist.

Rapid technological change is a part of our life. The central and most difficult challenge to leaders of today is to shape the changing human organization so as to harness these forces in a way that serves all of the people and to persuade those whose relationship to their company, community or government is altered by these rapidly emerging technological developments that change is rational and in their interest in the long run.

John F. Kennedy used to talk about leadership quite often and when he did, he used to facetiously cite a long forgotten leader of the French Revolution as an anti role model because he said “there go my people. I must find out where they are going so I can lead them.” I suspect that this individual was and should be forgotten because he thought and said things like that. So should his modern day successors whose campaigns for public office are based solely on the results of the latest poll or focus group responses. There is nothing wrong or evil about calculating the political effect of decisions particularly in a democracy. But it ought not to be the only consideration or the driving for behind the formulation of public service.

What is necessary to exercise leadership in this millennium is that we recognize that our society is so intricately organized that the working of the whole system may be halted if one part stops functioning. Thus our capacity to frustrate one another through non-cooperation has never been greater. We must therefore resolve not to hold the system hostage to anyone’s rigid idea ideological position or institutional intransigence.

This is particularly important in a constitutional and representative democracy such as ours where our leaders who are elected, must balance the need to at least appear to respond to their core constituencies with the need to maintain a vision beyond their constituents perceived prejudices. That is not the same, again in the word of the forgotten leader of the French Revolution as, “find out where the people are going so that I can lead them.”

Many times when decisions are made on the great issues of public policy they are made by a process of balancing the political factors that must by considered including the feelings of uncertainty sense of loss and other stress that those affected almost always feel in the face of change with the need to institute change as comprehensively and as rapidly as possible.

What emerges from the process is very often a compromise between the status quo and the comprehensive change sought by its advocates. This degree of change is usually not all of what the proponents of change has sought but it almost always clearly better than the idea or organization that it replaced it is also very ignorantly recognizable with existing values and needs. I believe at this point, we as leaders have a duty to use our abilities as well as the skills we have developed to give acceptance of the compromise to the same extent that we used them to take the lead in the introduction of the new order of things at least to this extent that stability is restored sufficiently to those affected by the change so that they willingly alter their established relationships in the social organization and structures.

It does no good to elect men and women of vision and courage to public office and then insist that they take action albeit innovation and desirable, which will result in their being irreparably, damaged or, worse, destroyed politically.

Leaders willing to take grave political risks are rare enough in public life to be considered a precious commodity to be treasured and preserved not thrown to the prejudices of the crowd without support. This kind of cooperation in the form of compromise is not always view as desirable indeed at times; it is viewed as downright unfashionable.

Felix Rohatyn the brilliant tough minded businessman who did so much to save New York City in its time of crisis said, “Commitment is not fashionable: cool is the order of the day… we face the loss of our most precious assets all because we are cynical, self indulgent and unwilling to make the effort.

In short we should recognize that what Machivelli observed long ago in “The Prince”, continues to be a valid premise on which to “…proceed there is nothing more difficult to take in hand more perilous to conduct or more uncertain in its success than to take the field in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for all these who have done well under the old conditions and lukewarm defenders an those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from the fear of opponents who have the laws on their side and partly from the incredibility of him who do not readily believe in the new things until they have long experienced them”

For these reasons the resolution of the great social issues today and tomorrow will not be found by those who were content with today, apathetic toward the problem and their fellow human beings, timid and fearful in the face of new ideas and bold projects Rather it will belong to those who can blend passion, reason, courage and perhaps most importantly the patience to sustain a personal commitment to ideas which may not be reached or even visible in their life time.

In this season of thanksgiving inaugurals, holidays and celebrations, let’s hope that our leaders willingly and enthusiastically accept the challenges which lie ahead of them and utilized the skills God gave them which brought them to their current positions of power and trust in out nation. Have a Happy Prosperous and fulfilling New Year!

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