It is that wonderful time of the year—football season! Moreover, it is also election season! It is the times of stupid stats—on the third Sunday of every month left handed quarterbacks throw interceptions no fewer than four times per game from the 33-yard line. Each incumbent political office holder failed at providing the perfect solution to alternate side of the street parking in Washington, D.C. What I find particularly interesting is the charge that the current batch of incumbents, regardless of office, has failed in providing the appropriate level of leadership to their constituents. Equating a politician to a leader is like calling a cow a horse. They are not the same. Cows provide milk, butter, leather and whatever else can be squeezed from them. Horses take you somewhere. They will run until they drop.
Politicians bring home the bacon for their communities. They are negotiators and orators of the first order. The exceptional politician barters his vote to get a vote. They understand that ensuring their community receives its fair share, is the first priority. One of my favorite politician stories is the story of the Gravina Island Bridge, the bridge infamously known as the “Bridge to Nowhere.” The bridge was to replace a ferry that connected Ketchikan, Alaska with Gravina Island, an island that contains the Ketchikan International Airport, with about 109,000 passengers per year, according to the FAA, and a population of 50 residents. The cost of the effort was projected at $398 million. The federal funding of the project was secured through the efforts of Representative Don Young and Senator Ted Stevens, both of Alaska. In my estimation, they are gold medal politicians for being able to secure such a project for their state.
It is amazing the bridge is considered one of the classic examples of pork barrel spending. No one can wave a magic wand in government to cause such a project to happen. This project required finely tuned negotiation skills. In view of having to sway a majority of a 535 member congress, to secure support for such a project, the accomplishment has to be considered the quintessence of political prowess. The project was eventually canceled after much public outcry.
A leader is one who can see the invisible, and achieve the impossible. They are decisive. They are alert and never satisfied. They inspire their subordinates. My favorite leadership story is the Invasion of Normandy. The invasion is overflowing with stories of dynamic leadership and bravery throughout the battle. The story of leadership at its best is the story of General Dwight Eisenhower. He provided a vision that he was able to share and gain buy-in for the plan from superiors to his very talented and very strong willed, allied commanders. He demonstrated decisiveness in making the decision to launch the assault in the face of oncoming foul weather. He inspired the invasion force by making personal visits to assault troops before the deployment of the force. In short, he modeled leadership.
Oddly enough, General Eisenhower became a politician after wearing the cloth of the nation. His ability to negotiate was thoroughly tested in gaining support for his vision and strategy leading up to the attack on Normandy. President Eisenhower was one of the most popular presidents in American history. He negotiated the support for building the interstate highway system. He expanded the role of national government in the areas of health and human services. He enforced federal court orders to desegregate public schools by sending federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, and signed civil rights legislation to protect the right to vote. President Eisenhower was the first term-limited president. Most importantly, President Eisenhower left office with a higher approval rating than when he came in.
Politician Vs. Leader
The professional politician is not a leader. They are expected to bring home the bacon. Politicians say what needs to be said in order to secure the deal and stay in office. They side step being responsible and accountable. The leader understands that being responsible and accountable is simply part of being a leader. Words have meaning and standing by them is a mark of leadership.
Can a politician be a leader? Can a leader be a politician? The answer is yes to both questions. Anyone can learn how to lead. Leaders can become politicians; General Eisenhower is just one of the many that have proven themselves as leaders first and continued their careers as effective politicians.
People want to be lead. More importantly, people want to be inspired. Undergoing hardship is much more palatable when one is inspired to do so. When the vision is clear, the strategy sound, and someone willing to take responsibility and be accountable for what happens or fails to happen, there will be far less silliness to the silly season.