The two are not the same. There is a political dimension to leadership (wherever you have two or more people, there will always be some level of politics involved in the interactions). Not all politicians are great leaders. To think the two are the same is truly naive.
I read Peggy Noonan every Saturday in the Wall Street Journal and it is rare that I don’t pick up a nugget or two of wisdom. In today’s paper she questions whether Mike Huckabee is truly leading a revolution or simply riding a wave. The growing concern among American, she conjectures, is not the war or economy so much as it is our culture. Mike Huckabee for many stands for a return to the values that made America great. That doesn’t necessarily demonstrate leadership unless you include the definition “find out which way the crowd is going and get in the front of the line.”
She also points out that it isn’t easy for politicians–even good ones–to impact the culture of the country much. Sure, they can influence the economy and policy, but culture is a bigger conglomerate than either. Whether or not you agree with her, she warns not to get too excited about electing a president who is going to dramatically change the culture.
Just as Guiliani has gotten dinged for talking too much about 9/11, I’m tired of every so-called conservative talking about Ronald Regan, and I admired and respected Reagan very much. The problem is that despite his good ideas (and I believe he was a politican who knew who to lead), he’s gone. We live in a different country and a different time. Although we can learn much from his legacy, it is foolish to attempt to replicate it; it is hard to step into the future with one foot firmly planted in the past. As I blogged about several months ago (and this is Noonan’s phrase much as I wish it were mine), we need “a new kind of greatness.” We don’t need Ronald Reagan wannabes.
Obama beat Clinton in Iowa for basically the same reason Huckabee beat Romney: both winners seemed more human and more likable. Yes, that is a generalization, but I’ll stand by it and many pundits and commentators smarter than me believe the same thing. We don’t just want leaders and politicians we respect, we want leaders and politicians that are nice, decent people. (That isn’t too suggest Mitt and Hillary aren’t nice decent folks; the caucus in Iowa seemed to think their opponents nicer and more decent. Romney comes across as a bit too analytical and Clinton as having an air of entitlement.)
So what about Edwards? Isn’t he nice and likable? Well yeah, if you buy his story that he is just like you and even though he’s a really rich guy that made his millions as a lawyer and didn’t get re-elected by the voters of his own state. His platform is the most disingenuous I’ve seen. It is one thing to say “I once was like you and then made it big but I remember my roots.” Edwards doesn’t say that. He distances himself from the kind of people he is: affluent, successful voters. He has no qualms about throwing the rich under the bus to get the vote of the common man. Deja moo: same old bull as last time he ran.
After twenty years in leadership development, I know there are many excellent leaders who have no desire to go into politics. It is a different skill set, and the price is high.
I also know politicians who have demonstrated their leadership ability. But, it seems, it is increasingly rare that politics and leadership go hand-in-hand.
We can hope for presidential candidates from both parties that truly know how to lead, but it remains to be seen.