The State of American Leadership, 2014

Photo courtesy of Mattel.

Photo courtesy of Mattel.

We’ve all heard the partisan screams of Democrats railing against an incompetent Congress. I’ve certainly participated in this phenomenon. And, we’ve all heard the “hue and cry” against President Barack Obama and his handling of the American Care Act or NSA spying on Americans and our allies.

Ironically, the term “hue and cry” hails from British Common Law, where the individual citizen has a legal responsibility to both speak up and attempt to assist in the apprehension of criminals on the street (Seinfeld’s final episode was based on this). Some might say Edward Snowden was doing just this by blowing the whistle on the NSA, but I digress.

Both sides of the Congressional aisle decry the concept of equal party culpability for our current condition. I won’t go there now. My point here is not to fan the already raging fires of partisanship in America. My desire here is simply to define leadership within today’s political context — one both sides might benefit to understand.


Democrats are predominantly liberal — or what leadership experts call “transformational;” They look toward change, to rebuild America so it can meet future needs much like a business visionary. Republicans, and Tea Party members in particular, are predominantly conservative — or what leadership experts call ‘transactional.” These are people focused on freezing things to focus on the short-term bottom line, meeting financial commitments like a sales manager at the end of the quarter. Republicans want to cut the debt. Democrats want to reinvent the economy.

But true leaders are BOTH transactional AND transformational. Knowing well that one must break eggs to make an omelet, transformation is a very disruptive to transactional process trying to hatch eggs. F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote that the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. Today our government is just barely functioning because we apparently lack the capacity to both take care of business and reinvent the way we do things. Doing both is a tough act, and this is why very few little boys grow up to become President or Speaker of the House.

Elliot Luber

Elliot Luber

There are other factors holding women back, of course. They make superior executives when given the opportunity (and when they don’t try to be like men) because they enjoy more highly developed communications skills — that passive/aggressive approach that so infuriates husbands as wives run circles around them during arguments. Yes, I generalize here.

In the first Harry Potter film (No, I didn’t read the book), Headmaster Aldus Dumbledore tells Potter: “It takes courage to stand up to your enemies, but it takes far more courage to stand up to your friends.” Leadership is thus not the ability to move forward with the majority behind you, it is the ability to go back to your own supporters and convince them to go against their wishes because it is the right thing to do for practical or moral reasons. This is precisely where both parties failed us miserably to lead America in 2013.

Nelson Mandela’s crowning achievement was not giving power to Black Africans.  That would have happened on its own. It was doing so without his people murdering all the White Africans. That’s leadership. In 2013, Time Magazine chose to name the Pope as Person of the Year. He showed great leadership not in defeating those who disagree with the Church, but in moving the Church itself to re-evaluate long-held stances, its focus of energy, etc.

The Pope is relatively new in his position and hasn’t done much yet from a political perspective even if he promises to bring new spiritual meaning to the Catholic Church as Christmas approaches. In my view, naming him Man of the Year was an easier decision than awarding Edward Snowden — who did much more to make headlines in 2013, Time’s stated criteria.

Backing away from your mission shows lack of leadership on Time’s part. Leaders must do the heavy lifting. George Bush Senior won a war in Iraq, but Franklin Roosevelt got Americans here at home to go along with rationing, recycling, blackouts, and to buy war bonds. Ronald Reagan was conservative enough to bring staunch Republicans a little to the left. That just won’t happen in today’s government of, by and for special interests — where political expedience is the norm.

So what will 2014 bring? Likely more of the same, but Congress’ recent passage of a budget holds out some promise that people like John Boehner have learned something about leadership along the way. Republicans, if still mired in thick Tea, are going to have a tough time winning back the White House in 2016, but Democrats will have to learn to live with the Republican Congress, given the shrinking fringe. Which party will see the forest for the trees and take the victorious high road? We’ll see.