What Our Leaders Didn’t Learn on Their Summer Vacations

Posted 09.01.2011

Long term readers of this blog may have noticed that I don’t write nearly as many posts as I used to that are based on politics. There are a couple of reasons for that. First, I try to keep this blog in the ballpark of leadership news you can use and there just aren’t that many good examples coming from our national political leaders. That leads to the second reason I’m not writing about them much anymore. What they’re doing is just flat out depressing.

So today’s post is a bit of a combo platter. On the one hand, it’s a cry of frustration. On the other, it’s one of those learn what to do by not doing what they’re doing posts.

Before Congress recessed for summer vacation and the President left for Martha’s Vineyard, the two sides (Why is it always about the two sides anymore anyway? Ah, but I digress.)  took each other and the country to the brink by locking horns over the debt ceiling. Historians may well look back on that fiasco as the tipping point into complete dysfunction. I guess it was too much to hope that as our leaders took some vacation that they would step back, reflect on what happened and come back ready to do things differently for the good of the country.

Yeah, that was too much to hope for apparently. In scheduling his much anticipated speech on jobs creation (the New York Times has the recap), the President asked for a joint session of Congress on the same night as the first Republican debate to have all of the current candidates in the field. Of course, the White House press office claimed that this was a mere coincidence and that they had never considered big footing the GOP. Not to worry, the Speaker of the House, in a historically unprecedented move, rejected the President’s request for a joint session. After an afternoon of naming, blaming and stare downs, the White House relented. The joint session speech is now scheduled for the next night, the start of the new season of the NFL. Great solution.

So, what’s the leadership lesson in all of this? There aren’t any good ones. So let’s look for the counterfactual lessons: 

  • One, when you’re a leader, focus on the real work. 
  • Two, put the greater interest ahead of your self interest. 
  • Three, to get anything done, you’re going to have to occasionally work with people you don’t like and don’t always agree with. 
  • Four, you’ll never get anything positive accomplished if you’re constantly doing petty things designed to show up the other side.

I could go on, but what do you think? What lessons – positive or negative – should leaders take away from our current political state? What can we do to make things better? As for me, I’m becoming increasingly intrigued by an organization called Americans Elect and the efforts of people like Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz to rally his peers to take a stand against bad leadership.