Reflection on the nature of leadership : beyond presidential debates and rhetoric

 

The presidential debate in the U.S on Wednesday brought home some issues about leadership. I personally feel the debate was made out to be more about style than substance, but some analysts have rightly pointed out that despite calls by most media pundits that Romney “won” the debate, the last word is not out, yet.

I have also been reading and discussing issues of leadership, in part due to the course-work that I am taking at school. I have come across various types of leadership models and the various ways of analyzing and critiquing leadership.

While theories may predict whether the leader will be a “servant leader” or a “transformative” one, the true test of a leader is in how he practices what he/she preaches.

In this, we have seen a consistent lack of consistency from Romney. While president Obama has not been the most successful one, he certainly has not dilly-dallied as much in terms of his position on various issues, both domestic and foreign policy ( an area where Governor Romney seems to be sorely lacking).

As I made mental notes, on how to compare the two candidates, I narrowed them to these five criterion

  1. Problem definition  : How does a leader define a problem. Who is at the center of the problem, and for WHOM should society work ? Is it the millionaire and billionaries who “create” jobs, or the homeless and destitute ? Do we build a society around social Darwinism or around compassion and social justice ?
  2. Priorities : Linked to the first point. This is an area where the leader decides whether  the priority is focusing on “real” problems, or political distractions and imaginary threats and fears?
  3. Consistency : How consistent is a leader in pursuing what he believes is true. While politicians are forced to alter their positions and compromise, given the nature of their work; it does help if one doesn’t change one’s mind every day, as Romney has done.
  4. Ambition : Is it the leader’s personal ambition to win at all costs, or to step back and look at the bigger picture and speak the truth and focus on being consistent, at the risk of losing ?
  5. Personal vision: This is the biggest criterion, both in terms of building a society for the future, and being a genuine human being, versus running a country purely on naked ambition and aggressive posturing.

While there are no clear answers to any of these, and any one person at a point is bound to have a varying degree of strengths and weaknesses in these areas – sometimes the truth is obvious and in our face.

The choice before the American people, in my opinion is as much about the kind of leadership model they choose to adopt. The upcoming elections may actually tell us more about the American psyche, than about the two candidates themselves.

 

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