Friday, December 01, 2006

Aimless America

Can you imagine a football team without a coach? A class without a teacher? A business without a manager? Mature people know that leaders, although always imperfect, are the ones who put together the plan, communicate it, train the responsible actors, and ensure all is done to achieve the desired outcomes.

The need for leadership grows in importance as the size and complexity of the affected organization increases. Maybe a five person basketball team could self-organize for success, but would you predict an equal level of self-organization in a 60 person football team? Maybe a small study group could learn a topic by negotiating research and presentation responsibilities, but could a 400 student survey course at State U. do the same? Is is possible that a GE could stumble without a Jack Welch at the controls? A large organization without effective leadership is like a flotilla of warships steaming aimlessly in a fog, unable to coordinate their efforts and in jeopardy of experiencing terrible collisions, and rarely accomplishing their intended purposes.

Effective leaders have a clear vision of their organization's purpose, and they ferret out the information necessary to identify and prioritize the several goals of their organization. They communicate these goals and get active buy-in from their subordinates. They work diligently to ensure that the sub-groups in their structure plan and act in support of the goals, often coordinating effectively with each other. They measure progress, recover from the inevitable mistakes, and encourage all members of the organization to stay committed no matter how difficult their tasks may be. They recognize the entire group when each milestone is achieved and each goal is met. And they continually update their objectives, recognizing that each new year presents unforeseen opportunites and threats. By doing all these things, they continually build the capabilities of their organization and the trust of the people within it.

Do you see these characteristics in America's leaders? Do we share a vision of what America should be? Are the goals prioritized and clearly delegated to responsible people and structures? If so, then we all should feel confident that:

- America will have effective relations with every country in the world.
- America will have reliable sources of energy for the forseeable future.
- America will educate every citizen who is intent on learning, and reward achievement.
- America's streets will be safe for everyone, day and night.
- Americans will be free to live as they please, as long as they cause no harm to others.
- America will become more and more beautiful as the years go by.

Should not our leaders set the highest standards for our society? Should not our leaders be mobilizing America's incredible human and material resources to make these standards a reality? Must we face a major foreign relations crisis, a critical energy shortage, an incapable workforce, a pervasive lawlessness, a palpable stifling of the human spirit, or a desolate landscape before we demand leadership that makes us confident of the future? Or will it be too late for leadership if these evils come to beset us?

We have a leadership deficit in America. America is aimless. How can it be that our best and brightest seldom carry the banner of America? Maybe the time has come to re-think how we choose those who aspire to lead, or at least to refocus the criteria we employ in our current system. Or do we wait for the crisis?

2 comments:

Thomas LB said...

I think the most important thing we can do is change the way campaigns are financed. The reason politicians are already announcing their candidacy for 2008 is not because they need time to appeal to the people- it's because they need time to raise money.

If their candidacy is not endorsed by early on by the moneyed interests, they won't appear on the ballot. Essentially, all our candidates are run through a filter of corporate interests and wealthy individuals before "we the people" cast a single vote.

It's this funding scheme that has transformed our democracy into an oligarchy.

Ron said...

What did Deming say? "A system must have an aim. Without an aim, you have no system."

We have this big, wonderful nation and seem unable to articulate a national aim that goes much beyond GDP growth or military strength. It would be an amazing leadership act to transcend that. And the question about what that could be would indeed be a huge contribution to the national dialogue that currently seems preoccupied with Iraqi car bombings and Britney Spear’s panty-less partying.