For years, study after study has indicated that the No. 1 quality which people want in a leader is integrity. People seem to want somebody to follow whom they can trust.
I'm not very political, but I do feel that our recent presidential election tells a story about people's perceptions and expectations of our leaders, in organizations as well as government.
If integrity is so important, then why would Bill Clinton defeat Bob Dole so easily for the presidency when it's clear that more people in the country trusted Dole than they did Clinton? In fact, in a survey published in USA Today the day after the election, when asked whom they trusted, 85 percent of the respondents chose Dole and only 9 percent chose Clinton. That's a pretty big margin of trust. And yet, other information reported in the survey suggested why somebody who was not considered trustworthy could beat someone who was considered of high character.
Besides character, the two other important aspects of leadership are the visionary role and the implementation role. Effective leaders do the right things, according to leadership expert Warren Bennis. An important part of leadership is pointing the way, giving direction, having a vision of the future. In the USA Today survey, when asked who had a better vision for the future, only 12 percent backed Dole while 77 percent supported Clinton. When asked who was in touch with the 1990s, again, a small 8 percent chose Dole while an overwhelming 89 percent chose Clinton.
When it came to providing some vision and direction for the country that could move us into the 21st century, it was clear to the respondents that Clinton outstripped Dole. They had no sense of where Dole wanted to take the country or how he thought the future had to be designed.
Besides vision, the next key part of leadership is implementation. A lot of people talk about this more as management than leadership, but I like to think of both vision and implementation as key leadership roles. Bennis argues that effective managers do things right. In other words, once you know what is the right thing to do through vision, implementors are able to do things right to make that vision happen.
In the USA Today survey, a question that had some implications for doing things right asked: Does this candidate care about me and people in similar positions? Only 17 percent chose Dole while 72 percent gave Clinton the nod. They felt that Clinton was more apt to do something because he cared and had empathy for people's plight.
The big picture to me is that character is important, but alone it is not enough. What people want in a leader is someone to follow. They want that person to have a good vision of the future and to inspire and be able to lead them to that vision. They want that person to care about them and to be a doer, not a talker. Given the choice of character alone vs. vision and action, Clinton got the nod. I think the American people feel that the media are watchful enough that it will be increasingly difficult for Clinton or anybody in his administration to get away with anything improper, so they would rather have somebody who looked like they really were going to lead.
While important, character is not seen as useful if the person does not have the necessary leadership traits to make things happen. Dole got the nod for trust and integrity, and Clinton got the nod for his leadership ability. Too bad we can't have all three traits in the same person.
About the author
Ken Blanchard is co-author of the best-selling One Minute Manager series of books. He has written and co-authored 11 other books. His latest book is Mission Possible, co-authored with Terry Waghorn.
© 1996 by Blanchard Management Report, Blanchard Training and Development Inc. Attn: Bob Nelson, publisher, 125 State Place, Escondido, CA 92029. Past articles, reprints, special topic requests, interviews and annual subscriptions are available.
Telephone (800) 728-6000, ext. 5201, or fax (619) 743-5030. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.