Whatever Happened To… ?

Posted 09.11.2009

Joewilson2 One of the things that I think is completely true about leadership is that presence begets presence.  Whatever tone or presence that is set by the leader is the tone or presence that will be adopted by the followers. At least I used to think that. After the outburst of, “You lie!” by Representative Joe Wilson during the President’s address to Congress on Wednesday night, I’m not sure who is following who anymore. As many commentators have pointed out, the scene in the House of Representatives the other night sometimes resembled the raucous health care reform town hall meetings of August. Were the catcalls, the sign waving, the heckling and the blatant Blackberrying of Wednesday night’s session conscious acts designed to fuel the next round of public outcry or was all of that more of a reflection of the leaders picking up on the presence of their followers?

I’m stumped on that one.  It’s tough to figure out which is the chicken and which is the egg.

What I’m not stumped about at all is how disheartening I found the whole display. Leaders need to lead by example. If the example leaders set is that it’s OK to act like unruly children, then I think we will, as a society, eventually reap the whirlwind of that behavior. It all makes me wonder, whatever happened to…

respect for the office?   It used to be that the President of the United States was due a certain amount of respect just because he held the office.  It feels like a line was crossed on that this week.  Heck, forget about respect for the office for a moment; how about just simple respect for another human being?

listening?  Remember when you were a little kid and if someone was saying something you didn’t like, you’d put your hands over your ears and yell repeatedly, “I can’t hear you! I can’t hear you! I can’t hear you!”?  (I think I might have tried that exactly once before it was made clear to me that that wasn’t going to happen again.)  I think we saw a lot of the adult (?) version of that behavior on Wednesday.  What a great example.

giving thoughtful attention?  Tweeting during a Presidential address to a joint session of Congress (especially when you know that the cameras are on you) takes the issue of adult attention deficit disorder to a whole new level.

being hard on the issues and soft on the people?  Have we lost the capacity to have a thoughtful debate or disagreement on substantive issues without resorting to personal attacks?  What does it say about our capacity to solve difficult problems if we have?

honor?   The maintenance of personal honor and dignity might be as simple as asking oneself, “What  would my mom think about this?” before acting. 

Navyfootball For an example of someone who is demonstrating thoughtful leadership and an enormous amount of personal honor, take a look at this feature article from the Sports section of the Washington Post on Navy senior Cameron Marshall.  Marshall is a 26 year old senior who carried the flag as Navy came onto the field for its football game against Ohio State last weekend.  He’s a 26 year old senior because he enlisted in the Marines as an 18 year old after 9/11. He came to the Academy as a 21 year old plebe following service in Iraq, Afghanistan and other hot spots. When asked about what it was like to be a combat veteran mixed in with 18 and 19 year olds being exposed to the military for the first time, Marshall said:

"It was a good thing.  When in doubt, you can never go wrong with humility; that's one of the things it taught me. You lend more legitimacy to the things that you've done by remaining humble about them and trying to learn as much as you can, rather than trying to tell everybody everything you know."

“When in doubt, you can never go wrong with humility.”  Spoken like a true leader. I hope when Midshipman Marshall has fulfilled his military career that he runs for Congress.  Whatever happened to the leadership role models?  Fortunately, we still have some.