tMichaelB is the web site for Tom Bengtson, who writes about business, religion, family and politics.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Looking for leadership

With the general elections three weeks away, let’s take a moment to consider what leadership is.

A leader is someone who takes charge, someone who brings ideas to the table, articulates them in a compelling fashion and makes things happen. I know a lot of people who are good at bringing all sides together, facilitating discussion and seeking consensus, but this is not necessarily leadership, in my opinion. While consensus is nice, sometimes you have to lead in directions that no one else has considered.

Real leaders also see beyond the obvious. Of course we want a balanced budget, good schools, environment-friendly public policy, safe neighborhoods, fair taxation and economic opportunity. I have a hard time getting excited about a candidate whose entire platform consists of this kind of default-mode governance. A real leader, as I see it, should be able to take care of the state’s own needs and then offer something to the country or the world -– like innovations in food production or medical care, or breakthroughs in technology, or world-class educational opportunities.

And real leaders respect those who hold different opinions. They acknowledge the people on the other side of an issue without putting them down. They understand that most people want the same things -- peace, safety, good education, affordable housing and transportation, decent medical care, a good job -– but that people of good will may differ on how to achieve these things. I like a leader who acknowledges a breadth of approaches on a particular challenge, but acts without compromise on what he or she knows to be best, keeping the constituency informed along the way. There will be people who won’t like leaders who don’t chose their ideas, but being a good leader is more about being respected than about being liked.

Finally, good leaders make us forget our fears. What is it that keeps people and their societies from advancing? I believe it is the fear of doing something different. A good leader helps people see the advantages of a particular course of action, even if it is something that has never been tried before. People who don’t want to risk anything are afraid of losing what they have. A good leader alleviates those fears. A good leader affirms people where they are at and shows them the possibilities for a better life. Of course there is risk, but a good leader will make the risk seem like a manageable down payment on a better future.

If you are lucky enough to live in an area where any of the candidates for public office hold the qualities of true leadership, go out and vote for them on November 2.

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