January 25, 2008

The Right Way and the Wrong Way

Filed under: Politics — Mark Sanborn @ 7:43 am

Barack Obama did something strategic when he moved from complaining about Bill Clinton campaigning for Hillary and started using humor to deal with the situation.

John Edwards, one of the most experienced and yet inept candidates did something poorly. He’s in South Carolina, the state where he was born. Since he’s getting smacked around by Clinton and Obama, Edwards decided to attack. But he didn’t go after his opponents as you might expect. He attacked the sitting president. And he didn’t attack his policies, he attacked Bush, saying if there was an adult in the White House the recession would have been dealt with before it began.

The term is “misplaced aggression.”

Obama got it right; Edwards got it wrong.

January 15, 2008

Time for a Change?

Filed under: Leadership, Politics — Mark Sanborn @ 9:59 am

Current polls and the writing of pundits are all about America wanting a change in Washington. Of course each and every presidential candidate believes he or she is the right person for the job. (Wouldn’t it be a kick to hear a candidate honest enough to say “I can’t promise any major changes. I only know how to operate in government as it presently is, not as it could be.” That kind of candor would be refreshing but politically fatal.)
Whenever people get frustrated with the status quo, change becomes desirable. Remember that most of the time we resist change. It takes a large dose of disgruntlement to make people demand change.

All progress is change, but not all change is progress. We tend to focus only on the first half of that statement. I’m all for positive change; the rub is in deciding what is positive.

Real and pseudo leaders alike love a climate demanding change because they can offer hypothetical solutions not tested by time. It is easy to promise grandiose change but infinitely harder to deliver on the promise.

Delivering on change is what separates the true leaders from the posers.

January 5, 2008

Leadership and Politics

Filed under: Observations, Leadership, Politics — Mark Sanborn @ 5:00 pm

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.

December 6, 2007

Faith and a Future President

Filed under: Uncategorized, Leadership, Politics, Moral Leadership — Mark Sanborn @ 11:57 am

In 2008 will we be electing a president or a pastor?

Peggy Noonan makes a good point: we’re supposed to be electing a president, but if you watch the news you’d think we were electing a national pastor.

I believe faith is important, but I don’t believe it is the most important criteria for electing a leader. Competency and character are critical issues, but I know people of diverse faiths and beliefs who exhibit both.

Mitt Romney is going on national television to explain his Mormon beliefs. Other candidates are wearing their religion on their sleeves these days and spending much time either defending their beliefs or casting criticism on the faith or lack of it in their opponents.

A campaign staffer from the Clinton camp was fired for sending a false email claiming that Barack was a Muslim.

In my perfect world, would a president I vote for share the same faith is I do? Of course. But I don’t live in a perfect world. I don’t even expect a candidate I vote for to completely agree with me. I love my wife and I know she loves me we don’t even agree all the time. What we do share are common values and commitments. Those trump differences of opinion.

I suspect we’ve let the issue of a candidate’s faith become more of a distraction that part of constructive dialogue at this point. Let’s keep the primary focus on competence and character, and on values and ethics.

October 13, 2007

Votes for Sale

Filed under: Observations, Politics — Mark Sanborn @ 9:38 am

Hillary Clinton and the democrats in general opposed privitization of social security because they were afraid Americans couldn’t manage their own retirement accounts.

But that was before Hillary officially started running for president.

Now she proposes that anyone who makes less than $100,000 a year should be given $1,000 by Uncle Sam. For what purpose? To invest in his or her retirement.

A week or two before she was advocating $5,000 for each baby that was born.

Who pays for it all? Taxpayers, of course. Uncle Sam, as you already know, is us.

And in another twist of irony, Hillary suddenly seems big on government spending after criticizing the Bush administration for spending too much.

Lest you think me close-minded, there are some merits to her ideas. Overall, I don’t agree with her suggested gifting program, but that isn’t my primary point.

The point is about political expediency. Yesterday’s opposed issue can quickly become today’s espoused platform if it serves to drum up votes.

September 14, 2007

Some Thoughts on Integrity

Filed under: Observations, Politics, Moral Leadership, Success — Mark Sanborn @ 8:46 am

Integrity is about…

Promises kept. Period.

Saying what you’ll do, and then doing it.

Congruency between beliefs and behaviors.

Living out values rather than keeping up appearances.

Being the same person on stage and off stage.

Choosing truth over spin.

The distance between your life and your lips.

September 13, 2007

Optimism versus Anger

Filed under: Leadership, Politics, Speaking and Communication — Mark Sanborn @ 9:01 am

I’ve decided that I’m not going to blog much about the stuff that makes me angry and frustrated, especially at it relates to culture. That means I’m going to bypass the familiar critique of train wrecks like Brittney, Lindsey and Paris. I’m not going to point out the blatant stupidity of those who seem to think that Hugo Chavez is some kind of modern day hero as he seizes private assets and works to entrench himself and his cronies as a the ruling “dictatorship of choice.” Stuff like that is lost on those who don’t want to honestly think about it, and redundant to those who do think.

I find it easy to fall into the same trap that derailed Howard Dean (remember him?) in his ill-fated bid for the presidency. Republicans and Democrats and the rest are equally guilty of the same thing: ranting about what’s wrong with the world instead of offering hope about how to make it better.

Anger is easy, and in many cases even fun. Ranting and raving about what’s broke and who broke it doesn’t take any special insight or skill. Setting aside partisan differences to focus on what needs to be done to fix things, regardless of who broke them–that takes skill.

I haven’t seen much of that particular skill lately in recent political monologues (to call most of what happens in debates dialogue is exaggeration). The primary focus is the other party or the other party’s candidate and why he or she is unfit to lead. And while that may be partially or totally true, it doesn’t answer the obvious question: who is fit to lead?

Leaders offer remedies and solutions, not anger and blame. They create a realistic sense of optimism based on what is possible by offering ideas and actions with the power to make a difference.

Since Brittney and Hugo haven’t asked me for any suggestions for improvement, I’m not going to waste my time, nor your time as a reader, to do so.

July 25, 2007

The Really Bad News

Filed under: Observations, Politics — Mark Sanborn @ 8:44 am

Forget that gas prices are sky high. The price of fuel has motivated farmers to plant more corn for biodiesel and ethanol. That means they’re planting less barley, and the resulting shortage of this key ingredient is driving up the cost of beer!

And it that weren’t enough to keep you awake at night, demand for steel used in making kegs and glass is also vexing brewers. Those increased costs get passed on to you and me.

Has the cost of beer been raised in the candidate debates? Have the candidates taken on this critical issue?

Consider: the average person in the U.S. walks 900 miles a year and drinks 22 gallons of beer each year. That means we’re getting 41 miles to the gallon (mileage may vary).

I’m all for alternative fuels. Support your local brew master.

Truth Needs Protection

Filed under: Observations, Politics, Speaking and Communication — Mark Sanborn @ 8:34 am

The Denver Post has been reporting on the firing of Ward Churchill from CU. Churchill, you may recall, made very incendiary comments about 9/11. The ruckus caused by his comments attracted enough attention to expose him as most likely not being of Native American descent, as he claimed, plagiarism and other improprieties. School administrators are trying to get rid of him, but he’s not going quietly and, of course,  he’s using the free speech defense.

That’s context for a comment by a fellow professor at CU who says Churchill may not be right, but that outrageous comments like his need protection.

Said professor doesn’t explain why, so here’s my opinion: we offer protection to speech and the ideas it communicates so that truth, including its nuances, doesn’t get buried. In a free society we want a diversity of opinion to stimulate dialogue, not because all ideas are created equal–some are alien-in-my-toaster whacky–but because we know that bits and pieces of truth can show up in unusual places.

What we are ultimately trying to protect is not goof-ball speech, but truth, as hard as it may be to find and agree upon. Goofy and erroneous speech are the price we pay to protect individual opinion, right or wrong, and  more importantly, truth.

It is possible to be sincere and still be wrong. It is also possible to be exposed as a fraud academically, act surprised that one’s behavior brought on such attention, and then pull a bait-and-switch by trying to make the issue one of free speech rather than bad behavior.

The truth always needs protection.

July 24, 2007

Take the Power?

Filed under: Politics — Mark Sanborn @ 9:07 am

This morning the soundbytes from last night’s democratic debates included John Edwards explaining how insurance companies and others in Washington with power weren’t going to give up their power, and that we must “…take it from them.”

For context, know that I have no clear favorite in either party. If I hear a Republican or Libertarian saying something goofy, I’ll call them on it as well.

Take the power? Coming from a guy who made a fortune as a lawyer, one of Washington’s most entrenched power structures, I find that somewhat ironic. What bothers me is this: if this vague power Edwards refers to comes legally, constitutionally and ethically, then no elected official in a democratic country has the right to “take it” from the holder. If the legal system is working–and it doesn’t always–it should protect us from the unscrupulous. Just because we don’t like someone’s power, if it is legitimately derived, we can’t take it from them because we don’t like them.

I’m not defending the power elite Edwards targeted; I’m defending an important principle of democracy. Citizens decide what power is legitimate–what they’ll allow–and hopefully vote in such a way that legislators and judges will address grievances and injustices.

“Take the power” is the phraseology may rally constituents but is dangerous and frightening, wherever it comes from. Power should be earned playing within the rules of the game, not by seizure from the unpopular.

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