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Americans’ Confidence in Leadership Declines Sharply

According to a report issued yesterday (October 15, 2008) by The Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Merriman River Group, political consultants, Americans’ confidence in their leaders across nearly all sectors has sharply declined over the past year. In particular, confidence in President George W. Bush and his advisers took another negative turn with 60% expressing “not much” or “no” confidence, a sharp decline from 49% in 2007.

The Executive Branch of government sat at the bottom of the 2008 National Leadership Index while the Military, Medical and Nonprofit sectors took the top three spots respectively.


Confidence in the leaders of seven sectors (business, the Executive Branch, Congress, religious, educational, the Supreme Court and state government) fell more sharply in the last year than ever before.  Only leaders from the Military and Medical sectors rated above the Moderate confidence level.


Despite their current expressed lack of confidence in the Executive Branch, 77% believe that the 2008 Presidential Election matters a great deal for the future of our country, up from 65% in 2007. High expectations for the next American President for sure.

The research was conducted September 13 – 22, 2008 through random telephone interviews of 997 individuals 18 years of age or older from across the United States.  The complete methodology is summarized in the report which you can download here. This survey is a component of the more comprehensive Leadership Index 2008 which will be available for download on November 24, 2008. Prior National Leadership Index full reports are available for download. (2007, 2006 and 2005)

What does this tell us about the current state of leadership in the United States? Obviously, people are not happy with how our country is being lead in nearly every sector and since the survey was conducted in the middle of the most significant financial crisis America has experienced since the Great Depression, this is not a real surprise. But does it tell us something more important about our nation. Do we look too often to our leaders when we as individuals and collectively might be better situated and more effective at finding solutions to our challenges? Are our leaders really as ineffective as the survey results suggest? Are leaders easily targeted scapegoats? These are not questions easily answered but asking and reflecting on them might be a worthwhile exercise as we enter a challenging new era in our nation’s history.

About the author

Peter A. Mello, Founder/Editor Founder of Weekly Leader and Sea-Fever Consulting, LLC, a leadership development and strategic communications consultancy. Previously, CEO of an international nonprofit organization and COO of a national insurance/risk management services firm. Peter has been leading people and managing organizations for over 30 years, writes a leadership column for MarineNews magazine and blogs about maritime culture at Sea-Fever. Follow him on Twitter.

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