Far too many people think that leadership is about style over substance these days. It’s almost as if it is more important to look and sound like a leader rather than behave like one. I wonder if historical figures like Abraham Lincoln with his high pitched nasally voice ad physical awkwardness or George Washington who was personally aloof and somewhat stiff in public settings would even stand a chance today. When a society starts spending more time focusing on how things appear rather than how they truly are, we as a people are in trouble. It is the content of someone’s character that matters most when tough decisions need to be made. We are in serious times both geopolitically and socioeconomically. We need deliberative thinkers who think before they act, don’t rush to judgment, have the ability to prioritize amongst competing issues, stay cool under pressure, maintain a reasonable level of consistency in their actions and messaging, build alliances rather than make enemies, and tell us the truth even when it is unpopular. The presidency shouldn’t be just a popularity contest.
I don’t know when the shift started to happen in my lifetime, but we have changed from a nation that gets results to one that seems to accept a lack of performance and then bemoans our lack of progress. You see evidence of this everywhere you turn: 1) structural economic issues that never get fully addressed; 2) traffic problems that never get solved; 3) infrastructure needs that are constantly put off until there is a crisis; 4) schools that turn out less than stellar results; 5) a widening gap between the wealthy and everyone else; 6) a health care system that is broken and too costly to maintain; and 7) wars that are started but never end, etc. Each group of leaders claims they are doing their best given the circumstances and/or blames their opponents for not doing their part. They then have the gall to rant on about our “exceptionalism.” It is a vicious non-productive and self-deluding cycle.