The Cranky Communicator: Thoughts on Leadership

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With the possible exception of sex, no subject has been more discussed than “leadership”. Go to any bookstore (presuming one still exists in your community) and you’ll find racks chock-a-block with mostly serious tomes addressing the subject. Because of my life experience and my all too rapidly declining life expectancy, I am occasionally asked to pontificate on this most nebulous of virtues and its characteristics. Knowing less about leadership than the practical application of the “Kama Sutra,” I nevertheless will weigh in where those more sensible and smarter than I have chosen not to tread: What makes a good leader?

 In Aristotelian terms, the good leader must have ethos, pathos and logos. The ethos is his moral character, the source of his ability to persuade. The pathos is his ability to touch feelings, to move people emotionally. The logos is his ability to give solid reasons for an action, to move people intellectually. This is the foundation of leadership. But there is more.

 In his life of Alexander the Great, Plutarch reminded us that leadership is as much about character as it is about victories and accomplishments. “The most glorious exploits do not always furnish us with the clearest discoveries of virtue or vice in men,” he wrote. “Sometimes a matter of less moment, an expression or jest, informs us better of their characters and inclinations.” The lives of the famous, he explained, can provide lessons in prudence, as in the case of the Athenian naval hero Themistocles, or in consuming greed, as in the case of the Roman general Crassus.

Shakespeare told us through Henry IV, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” When confronted with the enormity of the responsibility for the lives of more than a half-million soldiers during the first Gulf War, General “Stormin’ Norman” Schwarzkopf became doubtful, even fearful. Inspired by the words of another wartime leader, General Douglas MacArthur, he overcame his doubt and fear. Plutarch would have recognized an essential trait of leadership in Schwarzkopf — humility — for it takes a humble man to acknowledge his weaknesses.

For me, the hallmark of leadership is to be able to shoulder failure as completely as one would embrace success. It’s more than accepting responsibility when things go wrong; it’s being responsible for the consequences. The true secret of leadership lies in the tests he has faced over the whole course of his life and the discipline of action he has developed in meeting those tests.

When President Franklin Roosevelt died, U.S. columnist Walter Lippmann wrote, “The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men the conviction and the will to carry on.” So certainly a leader must inspire, but he must also make other leaders. It’s a little known fact (except among those who study American military history) that General Dwight Eisenhower was tutored and mentored by General MacArthur while Ike was a junior officer serving in the Philippines. Think of it: the two greatest U.S. generals of World War II, both five-star officers, one a teacher and the other his student.

I am tempted to go on and tell you about the greatest leader I ever had the privilege of knowing and serving, but the “blog mistress” reminds me I’ve already exceeded the tolerable length of the average reader’s endurance. And besides, war stories can be oh so tedious. So, I will succumb to the adult passive sedentary disorder (APSD) that increasingly afflicts me and retire to the couch to lose myself in some nostalgic grainy black and white movies from Hollywood’s golden era. You see, good leaders also learn from the past.

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