Is There a Leadership Crisis in America?

October 15, 2011

Is There a Leadership Crisis in America?
By Steve Tobak

If I had to come up with one definition of leadership, it would be the ability to motivate people to work together toward a common goal. Leadership is about uniting, not dividing.

In that context, I’m thinking we have a serious leadership crisis in America.

Now, I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of us can probably agree on some things that are backed by some pretty stark quantitative data, not to mention our common anecdotal experience.

Regardless of what you do for a living, I’m sure you’d agree that, when it comes to our economy:

Now, that may sound like a recipe for disaster, but to me, it’s a perfect storm for leadership, and not in a bad way, either. When times are good, leadership goes almost unnoticed. But when times stink, like they do now, well, that spells opportunity for leadership to come along and pull things together.

Sure, it’s one helluva challenge, but hey, if it was easy, everybody would be doing it, right?

In any case, this is not rocket science. When it comes to our leadership in America, we need three things:

  1. Common goals we can all get behind,
  2. Some sort of direction or strategy for achieving them, and
  3. To work together to execute those strategies and achieve our goals.

That’s exactly how all the best-run companies operate. Apple, IBM, Qualcomm, Intel, Starbucks – these are not divided companies where management is at war with employees. That’s because they’ve got solid leadership.

Granted, a nation is a more complex entity than a company, but I can still say with absolute certainty that, while strong leadership isn’t the only thing that matters, you can’t pull it all together without it. Yes, I know that sounds all-too simple, but all the most essential truths are.

Now, here’s the problem. Whenever there’s a leadership crisis in an organization, there’s a vacuum. When that happens, various factions will always materialize to fill the void. And when their message is divisive instead of unifying, that tends to polarize people, which doesn’t help the situation one bit.

Here are three business leaders with their own unique perspectives on what it’ll take to improve our economy.  You tell me which one is the divisive and which are unifying:

Warren Buffett, one of the most brilliant business minds of our generation, has also been an economic advisor to the Obama administration. That alone should give you some indication of his credibility – or lack thereof – when it comes to the economy.

Nevertheless, the Berkshire Hathaway CEO’s latest refrain – that the wealthy should pay more taxes because his secretary pays a higher effective tax rate than he does – has not only resulted in proposed tax reform, known as the “Buffett Rule,” but it’s sparked a brutal debate over whether the wealthy are paying their fare share of taxes or not.

Now, contrast that with Fedex founder and CEO, Fred Smith, who says that, when it comes to taxes and the role they might play in our economic recovery, we need to divide and conquer the problem, not the people:

“Well, I think you have to divide the tax argument into a little bit more discreet argument. First of all, the top 10 percent of the taxpayers in the United States pay 70 percent, or near 70 percent of all federal personal taxes. Corporate taxes are only about 9 percent. The problem is, when you talk about personal taxes, it takes everyone’s eye off of the corporate tax situation.”

And Robert Johnson, founder of BET Television, said this in a recent interview:

“I’ve been in business for over 30 years. I’ve never seen a time when there’s been more zero-sum game mentality in the United States among political parties.”

“Unfortunately now I don’t think we have the leadership either in the White House or the Congress to end [the] zero-sum game mentality towards the U.S. economy.  And until both parties agree that the goal is to rebuild the American economy to reflect the 21st century on a global environment-we’re going to be stuck. And it’s a little bit frightening from the standpoint of a business person .”

Personally, I’m very much inclined to agree with Johnson, that America is suffering from a leadership crisis, and until that void is filled with leadership capable of uniting our people behind a set of common goals and strategies, nothing much is going to get done.

I also agree that the situation is frightening, but not just for business people. For all of us. That’s what I think. Now, what do you think?

By Steve Tobak

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