How To Know Which Candidate Can Lead

Presidents_Race_2006-07-26Oh, how I wish the race for the presidency were month or two long. I grow tired of the endless advertising and press coverage in the two-year-long drama. What do we need to know that we couldn’t learn in a shorter, focused campaign?

There is much that is broken in the American political system: Paralyzing partisanship, big money and lobbyists exerting untold influence. But we wouldn’t trade American democracy for anything. We cherish it, even in its imperfection. So how can we make wise choices in the midst of this?

Many things influence our reactions to candidates, including unconscious feelings about a person’s appearance, accent and image. We may have strong feelings about our political leanings, party loyalty, or issues that move us. Ultimately, we need to make a choice when we step into the voting booth.

With the race now in full gear, I am thinking about leadership. Whom do we believe is best suited to lead our nation?

What are the character traits we need from a leader?

We want leaders who are demonstrably honest, compassionate and intelligent; who are flexible, but also firm in resolve. We want leaders with integrity, who are not bought and sold by outside interests, and lead with a broad view of what is best for nation. We want leaders who care about the issues that are important to a wide range of folks, and whom we believe truly care about the people. We want leaders who have a vision of a better tomorrow, and help us contribute to repair of the world.

We want leaders who learn from mistakes, and take responsibility when they stumble. The book, The Phoenix Project, A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win (Kim, Behr, Spafford) presents an important insight about leadership. Contrary to conventional wisdom, being vulnerable is a prerequisite to earning trust.

Above of all we need leaders who demonstrate and evoke trust, even from those who oppose their positions. Jeff Jarvis, in What Would Google Do?, writes that before we can trust the powerful, the powerful must learn to trust us:

Trust is earned with difficulty and lost with ease. When those institutions treat constituents like masses of fools, children, miscreants, or prisoners – when they simply don’t listen – it’s unlikely they will engender warm feelings of respect. Trust is an act of opening up; it’s a mutual relationship of transparency and sharing. The more ways you find to reveal yourself and listen to others, the more you will build trust.

It’s hard to sort the real person from the noise of the campaign. But we should look hard for insights into the way candidates reach out to us. Their respect for us will signal an opening for our trust.


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