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Leadership Courage

August 1, 2011

Leadership Courage

In a recent column, Robert J. Samuelson defined leadership as “the capacity to take people where they need to go – whether or not they realize it.”  Samuelson’s quote was in the context of the great fiscal debate taking place in the United States.  In my mind, the key phrase in his definition is “need to go” as distinct from “want to go.”  This is why leadership courage is vital.

To take people, and in this case the country as well, where they need to go requires having a clear vision of the new future one wants to create as well as a recognition of realistic constraints.  It also requires putting the greater good and long-term needs ahead of personal or political interests and short-term expediency. Sometimes the choices are painful and difficult to make, especially when entrenched interests or political bases will be ruffled.  Self-interests that are met at the expense of the greater good, or sacrifice future benefits of others, need to be set aside or placed in conext.  When they are not, parochial interests end up trumping the overall good.

The other critical element is intellectual honesty on all sides of the debate. False leadership is often riddled with half-truths and use of selected facts that paint a distorted picture.  Or making gross exaggerations, demonizing opponents, and employing scare tactics.  Often these are about taking certain groups or constituencies where they want go rather than where the country needs to go.  These tactics have no place in rational debate and decision making.  They only polarize and weaken necessary partnerships critical for achieving desired ends.

Courageous leadership requires telling hard truths accurately, fully, and objectively. Then logically evaluating and interpreting the most complete set of data possible to form honest conclusions and develop systemic solutions.

These principles apply not only to political leadership, but to business, organizational, and individual leadership as well.   On a personal level, are you leading yourself where you need to go?  What are you doing to take on the hard challenges of building a better life and brighter future – not just for yourself but for those in your family, future generations, organization or company, and community?  Are you placing the greater good ahead of personal gain or to preserve your status quo?

Are you demonstrating leadership courage to take others “where they need to go – whether or not they realize it.”  How courageously are you leading yourself?

Steve Weitzenkorn

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