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Scott M. Paton

It’s About Leadership, Stupid

I want a leader, not a politician.


In case you haven’t noticed, it’s an election year. Our 24/7 media are obsessed with the candidates (not to mention their spouses, children, hairdos, and pantsuits). Political pundits pontificate about primary and caucus results. Statisticians spew statistics about every possible segment of society. (Do you really care how middle-aged female African-American librarians will vote?) Bloggers bloviate about anything and everything. Talk radio jocks joust with one another over which candidate is the most liberal or conservative.

There’s no shortage of issues or opinions. Some candidates argue that the war in Iraq is wrong; others argue that it’s just. (Don’t you love the Obama-Clinton “I was never for it”/”I never meant to be for it” debate--even though they both voted to continue it?) Some promise a long-term health care solution; others argue that we can’t afford a massive new federal bureaucracy. Some want to rescind the Bush tax cuts; others want to make them permanent. By the way, according to The Wall Street Journal, rescinding them will trigger the largest tax hike in history (nearly $1.9 trillion over seven years), raising taxes for 115 million people and returning 7.8 million low and middle-income people to the tax rolls.

There’s also no shortage of finger- pointing. Democrats blame Republicans; Republicans blame Democrats. The pundits tell us that John McCain isn’t conservative enough, Barack Obama isn’t experienced enough, Hillary Clinton isn’t likable enough, and Mike Huckabee isn’t mainstream enough.

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of the arguing, the finger-pointing, and the overanalysis. I wish there were a “none of the above” category this year because I think all the candidates are missing the big picture. We hear a lot about the war, illegal immigration, health care, the mortgage crisis, impending recession, and the national debt, but we hear very little about and see even less leadership. We’re supposed to be electing a leader, not a politician.

I want a president who is a leader first and a politician second (or third or fourth). All great presidents have been leaders: Washington, Lincoln, Reagan. They had a clear vision of where they wanted the country to go and they made it happen. Washington framed and shaped a new nation. Lincoln preserved the union and ended slavery. Reagan ended the Cold War.

I have to admit that I was never a big fan of Bill Clinton, but this election reminds me of something that James Carville--one of Clinton’s campaign advisers--told him during his first election campaign: “It’s the economy, stupid.” It was a message that helped him win the White House.

I’d like to offer my own advice to the candidates this election: “It’s about leadership, stupid.”

We need our candidates to wake up and smell the latté-laced air: Starbucks is in trouble and so is our economy. We’re on the brink of recession, our financial services sector is in disarray, and the U.S. dollar is reaching historic lows against the pound, the Euro, and other currencies.

There’s an economic theory that says, “As General Motors Corp. goes, so goes the U.S. economy.” Well, GM recently reported the largest loss ($38.7 billion) ever by a U.S. automotive company, and it’s not alone. Chrysler announced plans to halve the number of models that it produces. Ford is hemorrhaging cash and market share. With the shift to a service economy, we might need to revise that economic maxim to “As Starbucks goes, so goes the U.S. economy.”

I want a political leader to stand up and address these issues. I don’t want him or her to hand out buckets of cash or institute trade barriers, but I want a leader who understands the economy and knows the long-term economic benefit of good-paying jobs and their effect on tax revenues. I want a president who understands the biblical adage that if you give a man a fish he will eat for a day, but if you teach a man to fish he will eat for a lifetime.

I don’t want change for change sake. I want leadership. I want a president who knows where he or she wants the country to go and works hard to get us there.

Think about the great managers you’ve had. They knew what the mission was. They knew how to motivate and how to inspire. They understood that a successful organization, be it a corporation or a government, is a collection of people working for the common good. You may not have always agreed with everything they did, but you respected them.

I’ll take a leader I disagree with over a politician. Leaders sometimes are masterful politicians because they have to be to get things done, but politicians are rarely great leaders.

So think about this when you decide for whom to vote. Think about it, too, when you’re in charge, whether you’re running the quality department, a company, or a Cub Scout meeting. Think like a leader, not like a politician.

What do you think we need in the White House--a leader or a politician? Which candidate would you rather work for? Who was your best and worst manager? Post your thoughts on all of this at www.qualitycurmudgeon.com .

About the author
Scott M. Paton is Quality Digest’s editor at large.