Monday, April 16, 2007

Where Have All The Leaders Gone?

“Where Have All The Leaders Gone?” is the title of a just-published book, ostensibly written by Lee Iacocca, with help from Catherine Whitney, who no doubt, if push comes to shove, ghost-wrote all of it. To read an excerpt, click here.

In case you don’t know who Lee Iacocca is - and you may well not because it’s some years since Iacocca was in the public eye, and, besides, the US is sometimes, not for nothing, called the United States of Amnesia - he was a big wheel (sic) in the car industry, first as president of the Ford Motor Company, then as chairman of Chrysler.

Henry Ford ll, the Chairman of Ford, fired Iacocca in 1978, telling him as the reason, “I just don’t like you”. Iacocca then went to Chrysler as its head honcho and rescued the company from certain bankruptcy.

Iacocca liked it to be known that his name was really an acronym for I Am Chairman Of Chrysler Corporation America. Catchy, certainly. But an imaginative advertising manager might have suggested, “Things Go Better With Iacocca”, as the company’s logo. One wonders why this never came to pass.

From your reading of the above excerpt from Iacocca’s book, you will have adduced that he doesn’t think highly of George W Bush as a leader, since Bush falls woefully short in all the nine categories of leadership Iacocca thinks important – Curiosity, Creativeness, Communication, Character, Courage, Conviction, Charisma, Competency, and Common Sense. But, while these qualities may be important in business, where the object is to make a profit, Iacocca doesn’t think to ask whether they are a good thing in politics, where the object is to get re-elected.

If we accept that the object in politics is to be re-elected, then George Bush has been supremely successful, since he persuaded the American people to vote him not just once into the Oval Office, but twice. Before that, he was re-elected to a second term as governor of Texas. There’s also no record of George Bush ever having being fired from anything. In that regard, he’s one up on Lee Iacocca.

Let’s take another look at each of Iacocca’s nine categories of leadership, and see whether George Bush really steps up to the plate, so to speak. In the matter of Curiosity, Iacocca thinks Bush hasn’t any, since he doesn’t read newspapers or books. While Bush may not read newspapers, it is reliably reported that he does read books, and lots of them. For instance in the first eight months of 2006, he read 60 books, and in the first two months of this year (2007) he read 16.

This works out to two books a week. In fact he and Karl Rove - his Rasputin - are in competition to see who can read the most books in any given year. Bush has, admittedly, fallen a little behind Rove this year, since Rove in January and February read 20 books to Bush’s 16. I think we can attribute this to all the time Bush has to put in as president.

Iacocca thinks a leader must read voraciously because the world is a big complicated place. Reading two books a week is, by anyone’s standards, a lot of reading, and would qualify as voracious. Does Lee Iacocca read two books a week, as George Bush does, I wonder? And, given that voracious book-readers are avidly seeking knowledge (are curious) I think you’ll agree that George Bush, with his voracious reading of two books a week, seeks knowledge as avidly as a desiccated Arabian-desert wanderer seeks water.

Iacocca thinks a leader must be Creative, must think, like, outside the box, and he doesn’t think George Bush does this. Iacocca obviously considers that a leader, when in a bind, the sort of bind George Bush is in vis a vis Iraq, should seek a solution out of the ordinary. Realizing he was in a bind, a very big bind, George Bush asked the venerable James Baker - his father’s Secretary of State and Bush family consigliore – to put together a bi-partisan commission, aka The Fabulous Baker Boys, to recommend solutions to the Iraq bind.

The Fabulous Baker Boys recommended, in so many words, that the US begin drawing down its soldiers in Iraq, so they would all be gone by sometime 2008, and that the US should begin talking seriously with Syria and Iran about regional long term solutions to the Iraq imbroglio. And you’ll remember that everyone expected George Bush to do what the Fabulous Baker Boys suggested he do. And what did he actually do? Why, the very opposite, ordering the troop “surge” in Iraq, and promising to all and sundry that talks with Iran and Syria were a non-starter.

By doing this, George Bush couldn’t have done anything more unexpected, unorthodox, or more out-of-the-box, if he’d tried. He incurred the wrath of all his political opponents, dismayed not a few of his supporters, and went against American public opinion which had just been expressed in the mid-term congressional elections. But George Bush stuck to his decision because he thought it right.

In terms of Lee Iacocca’s categories for good leadership, Bush's decision to order the troop surge and not talk to the Syrians or Iranians would meet Iacocca’s guidelines for Character, Courage, Conviction, and, of course, Creativity, for doing the unorthodox and unexpected is the ultimate in Creativity.

What haven’t I covered in Lee Iacocca’s categories for good leadership? Communication? Does anyone not know what George Bush intends in Iraq? Does anyone not know about the troop surge and its intent? George Bush has made clear what he’s aiming for, a stable Iraq friendly to the United States by means of rendering the “insurgents” toothless. It’s quite simple and clear, and George Bush, a simple and clear man, has said time and again what he wants in Iraq. That what he wants will almost certainly not come about is neither here nor there. What is important is that George Bush communicated to the American people what he wants, and Americans have got his message.

George Bush’s communication skills have even enabled him to talk the American people into believing things that aren’t true, like Iraqi complicity in the 9/11 attacks, and that the US was under threat of attack from Iraq unless the US invaded Iraq. George Bush’s communication skills are well-nigh brilliant.

What about the quality of Charisma, which Iacocca defines as the ability to instill trust in people so they’ll follow you. George Bush said: Let us go into Afghanistan, and the American people followed. Then he said: Let us go into Iraq, and the American people followed. And more recently, he said: Let us send yet more soldiers to Iraq, and this process is well underway, and the American people, in the form of the newly elected Congress, haven’t stopped it. This implies their support, or at least their tacit support.

Consider also that in November 2004, when it was clear that things were not going at all well in Iraq, the American people gave George Bush a second term in office, which they wouldn’t have done had they not trusted him. So, in terms of trust, and getting the people to follow him, George Bush has Charisma big-time.

This leaves Competency and Common Sense as the remaining leadership qualities which Lee Iacocca considers important. In view of all you’ve read so far, it’s surely clear to you that George Bush is both competent and has common sense. Without these qualities, he wouldn’t have achieved all he’s achieved.

But, to speak specifically of the quality of Common Sense, George Bush never displayed this better than on the day of 9/11. Lee Iacocca disparages Bush’s continuing to listen to children reading to him about a pet goat for 20 minutes after he’d learned about the 9/11 attacks. Why didn’t Bush immediately get up and do something dramatic? Iacocca wants to know. Why did Bush hide out for most of the day of 9/11, instead of flying immediately to Washington and taking over from Dick Cheney who was waiting there? Iacocca wants to know.

It should be obvious to all but the half-witted, that you need time to consider what you'll do when you’re suddenly told about something of the magnitude of 9/11, and you are the President. You need a few minutes to gather your wits, and George Bush did just that. And, his wits now gathered, his common sense told him - the Common Sense needed by Great Leaders – that it would be foolish to fly immediately to Washington before a risk assessment. Only a fool for a president would have flown to Washington and risk being needlessly killed, so that Americans in their hour of need would be permanently deprived of their elected president at the helm.

So George Bush sensibly hid out, and later returned to Washington when the coast was clear, and in the following weeks and months he was being hailed by the punditry and cognoscenti as a conquering hero, the equal of Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt. The rest is now history.

Lee Iacocca asks: Where have all the leaders gone? We assume he’s referring to political leaders, and to American political leaders in particular, and that they aren’t great leaders, as opposed to mediocre leaders. But he doesn’t ask: Why does a democracy, such as the US, even need great leaders, since, in a democracy, it is the empowered citizenry who do the needed things that are only done by great leaders in autocracies or dictatorships, or in business corporations, which are inherently autocratic? Whether its’ presidents are good or bad, great or not-so-great, America, like the Mississippi River, just keeps rollin’ on.

As for George Bush, whether we love him or hate him, we’ll sure miss him when he’s gone, wherever in the world we live.

Let’s just enjoy him while we may.