Maturity in Leadership
General Wesley Clark (ret.) spoke recently http://matr.net/article-49124.html at an event hosted by the Montana State University Leadership Institute http://www.montana.edu/wwwlead1/ and President Waded Cruzado.
By Carl Borgquist
For those of you that attended, I think we can all agree that it was a thoughtful presentation. I was struck by the maturity of General Clark both as a political and military leader. There was a grace in this — the impression being hard to describe but nonetheless evident. Before I lose some of my Republican friends, let me preface these comments by promising that this piece is not in support of a particular party or leader, in opposition of any speaker, network or group, but one more directed at political leadership as a whole and at this important time in our political history.
In fact — that is just the point.
What is it to have maturity and grace in political leadership? When I was a young congressional staffer I listened to stories of President Regan and Speaker Tip O’Neill (a hero in my family) drinking scotch, making deals and governing the country. We all told those stories – Republican and Democrat — because we admired their relationship. Reagan said of O’Neill: "Our friendship is testimony to the political system that we’re part of and the country we live in, a country which permits two not-so-shy and not-so-retiring Irishmen to have it out on the issues rather than on each other or their countrymen."
Maturity in leadership also requires a devotion to the facts. I cannot help hearing in my mind a Lewis Black stand-up piece directed at his desire for our leaders to find the "fact-facts." He concluded (wrongly but humorously) that "fact-facts" could only be found on your local elementary school’s lunch menu. We can do better. We can read, study and use that knowledge to inform our discourse and debate. We can admit when we do not have all the facts and separate opinion (or entertainment) from fact before we pass judgment on a particular question. This fidelity to study and discern the evidence should often lead us (regardless of our political persuasion) to the same place – and that is good for our political health.
Maturity in leadership also begets curiosity. Curious leaders are open to new ideas and innovative ways to solve problems. They seek expertise and reward creativity. There is not a chance in the world we could have built the space program and landed on the moon in a decade (perhaps our finest hour of the last half century) if we lacked curiosity and the desire to explore. Curiosity as reflected in innovation and exploration leads us to better outcomes. We can all thank President Jefferson for his curiosity, which gave us this last best place.
Mature leadership is also personally secure. As a former military prosecutor I have been witness to military leaders and judges that lacked personal security. This often manifests itself in quick and unreasoned judgments and a volatile command or courtroom environment where raised voices and harsh words carry the day. Secure leaders think before they speak (much less act). They operate from a composed place where their personal fear is accepted and acknowledged. This precipitates humility.
We saw evidence of all of these traits Monday night in the presentation by General Clark as well as the question and answer session he had on stage with three capable students that followed his remarks. It was refreshing and inspiring. The real political season is nearly upon us. There are chores to do. Good work to accomplish. Encouraging plans to be made.
We need to do it together with mature, calm and thoughtful leaders.
Carl Borgquist is the Vice President of the MSU Leadership Institute Advisory Board. He is a business executive and former military prosecutor that lives with his family in Bozeman, Montana.
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