Commit themselves to their own, each other’s, and the group’s well-being.
An important mentor in my life used to talk about how essential it is for a leader to be able to think about a goal, the individuals in the group working toward it, and the group as a whole. Over the years I have tried to do this when I have been leading and have found it is not easy, nor as simple as it sounds. I have read scores of books about leadership and skimmed many, many more. Some have used factor analysis in the development of their theories; others have been pedaling what smells like snake oil. But none of these books – a few really excellent ones among them, too – have provided me with the level of challenge that this has: Able to think about a goal, the individuals in the group working toward it, and the group as a whole.
While I do not approve of all of the decisions our President has made during his tenure (BTW, I am fully aware that his success does not hinge on my approval), there have been many times when he has shown this very ability. He will soon visit Hiroshima, Japan and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Mr. Obama’s usual critics have complained loudly about the appearance of these visits, particularly his stop in Hiroshima. But he has clarified that the trip is important in his larger agenda related to nuclear disarmament. It is not that our President is unaware of his critics in the group we call the United States, but rather that he can think about them as part of the larger group and the well-being of everyone in the world.
His actions and inaction on gun violence is more challenging for me to analyze. He has so far shown great compassion and anguish about the killing of and by children. But, his administration’s policies on providing arsenals to local governments is incongruent with our overall well-being. I truly love our President, more than any other in 50 years, but I just don’t understand.
I am even less sure that any of us can think at all about our reliance on the marketplace and a global economy. Proposals on all sides have argued for more policies, fewer policies, greater controls, no controls, safeguards, and protections for bigger and bigger investors. These positions, in fact, cancel each other out and profit those who are already profiting most. They reflect our inability to think simultaneously about a goal, individuals, and the whole group. They show a shocking inability to think about our economic well-being.
When I hear the United States has the “greatest economy in the world” (alternately: “the largest economy,” “the greatest in the history of the world,” “mighty but fragile”), I ask myself, “For whom?” These descriptions might show a certain leadership in thinking about a goal like GDP, unemployment rates, average annual income, trade deficits, and the like. But, these statements show ignorance about the individuals working toward those goals, namely American workers with or without jobs. They certain ring as hollow and stupid if we consider the group as whole, namely our neighbors in the US and around the world.
Last night I listened to an NPR report that detailed the death of a 15-pound three-year old Sudanese girl from starvation. How great is our economy? Who is leading?