In an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal Peggy Noonan discusses something unusual about the coming elections. The American people are aware that we are in crisis and that it truly matters who we elect in the fall. “But crisis elections tend to bring drama – a broad sense of excitement and passion,” Noonan says. “We’re not seeing that this year. We’re not seeing passionate.”
One possible explanation, according to Noonan, is that we realize we need a leader who is a political genius. That cannot be said of either candidate.
We have seen all to clearly the hazards of a ‘house divided,’ yet nowhere do we see any signs of a leader who can repair the rift. All we see are the usual gambits to secure the office. Missing is the candor, common sense, and optimism that makes us believe the words we hear. Instead all we are getting is “obfuscation, abstraction, clichés and dead words.”
We all know that we must get spending under control and revamp the tax system “so that at the very least we can remove the sense of agitated grievance that marks our daily economic life,” Noonan says. “It will take a political talent of the highest order to hold people together during the process.”
That’s the crux of the problem. We repeatedly put the best pitchmen in office for the lack of true leaders. They are what Jim Collins calls “level 5” leaders in his book, “Good to Great.”
Collins was speaking of corporate leadership, but his salient points apply just as well to the leaders of nations. Just substitute “country” for “company”:
1) “Level 5 leaders embody a paradoxical mix of personal humility and professional will. They are ambitious … first and foremost for the company, but not themselves.”
2) “Level 5 leaders are … infected with an incurable need to produce sustained results. They are resolved to do whatever it takes to make the company great, no matter how big or hard the decisions.”
3) “Level 5 leaders … attribute success to factors other than themselves. When things go poorly, however, they look in the mirror.”
4) “Level 5 leaders [are] more plow horse than show horse.”
That’s a tall order, and far removed from what we have been settling for. Yet there is still plenty of time for either candidate to ascend to level 5. We can only hope that they have the courage to do so.