Qualities of leadership | Ott Observation


A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to hear Bob Woodward speak. If you are of a certain age, you may recall that he, along with Carl Bernstein, did the investigative reporting that exposed the Watergate scandal and led to the resignation of President Nixon.  

Since those days, he has been able to extensively interview most of our presidents. 

In his talk, Woodward spoke highly of President Ford. Ford was the vice president who succeeded Nixon and was faced with a tough choice. There were difficult issues his presidency needed to focus on, but the country was still obsessed with punishing Nixon.

Ford decided to pardon Nixon so we could move on as a nation, knowing he was hurting any chance he had to get re-elected. In fact, he did not, losing to a populist peanut farmer named Jimmy Carter. 

As Woodward explained, President Ford is a recipient of the Profiles In Courage award because he “acted in accord with his conscience and risked his career for a larger vision of national interest in opposition to popular opinion.”

Later, another Republican, President George H.W. Bush, faced a similar difficult choice. He had been elected using a now famous line, “Read my lips, no new taxes.” Once in office, the economic difficulties he inherited required new tax revenue. 

He approved new taxes knowing he was jeopardizing his re-election chances.  He did lose, to Bill Clinton.  President Bush is also a Profiles in Courage award winner.

These two former presidents exemplify some qualities of leadership I think are very important – especially in our contemporary times. First, they demonstrated great courage to do what they thought was the right thing even if it wasn’t popular. Second, they met their responsibilities with selflessness, sacrificing their self interest in getting re-elected for the greater good of meeting their responsibilities to take our nation to a better place.  

This selflessness is something we should all expect when we elect “public servants.” 

Third, they took their burden of responsibility to govern seriously, recognizing this was more important than pursuit of their personal ideology or political career.

There is another quality of their leadership I also admire, that being humility. 

Once these presidents got into office and realized all the facts and complexities of a situation, they were able to admit their previous assumptions were wrong and charted a new path to a better outcome.  

As a native Missourian, I always admired Senator Jack Danforth. He once supported an amendment about flag burning. After further thought, he stood on the Senate floor and changed his view, urging his fellow senators to not change the Bill of Rights hastily, however obnoxious an expression felt.

This is the same Jack Danforth that now calls his support of Missouri Senator Josh Hawley the worst mistake he’s ever made in his political career.

Contrast these past leaders with the 138 U.S. representatives and eight senators who refused to certify our election results on that dark, violent day this past Jan. 6. 

Multiple recounts had taken place, verifying results. Over 60 court challenges had been rejected based on the evidence.  State election officials certified their vote, counting processes and results. 

Yet 146 of our highest ranking leaders lacked the courage to meet their responsibilities and risk the disapproval of their voters.

Many claimed they were merely representing the opinion of their constituents. That is a laughable standard of leadership. If this is the role of a representative, we should just take surveys and mail in the results with no need to have a body taking up space in the Capitol.  

Imagine where we would be today if those 146 had demonstrated the courage to certify election results that withstood the most intensive examination in our history, and had then made a genuine effort to educate their supporters that their suspicions were ungrounded.

What kind of leaders do you want representing you?  I suggest we ignore the “R” or “D” next to a candidate’s name and instead examine what qualities of leadership they’ve demonstrated in the past.

Have they demonstrated the courage to take an unpopular stance? Have they ever changed their minds based on better information? Have they made a genuine effort to explain their decisions to their constituents?

Please join me in expecting more of our leaders.

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