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Is there an inspirational leadership void?

thomas-friedmanIn the Op-Ed pages of the Sunday New York Times, Thomas L. Friedman wrote a thought provoking piece titled “Are We Home Alone?” in which he presents his thoughts about a current inspirational leadership void in America.

We’re in a once-a-century financial crisis, and yet we’ve actually descended into politics worse than usual. There don’t seem to be any adults at the top — nobody acting larger than the moment, nobody being impelled by anything deeper than the last news cycle. Instead, Congress is slapping together punitive tax laws overnight like some Banana Republic, our president is getting in trouble cracking jokes on Jay Leno comparing his bowling skills to a Special Olympian, and the opposition party is behaving as if its only priority is to deflate President Obama’s popularity.

While I see Friedman’s point, I’m not so sure that I agree completely. Despite a few recent misteps by President Obama, I feel that on a number of occaisions, starting with his inaugural address and more recently during his speech to the Joint Session of Congress, he has addressed the lack of personal, corporate and government responsibility and accountiblity over the past few decades that has been the root cause of the challenge we find ourselves in today.  We’ve developed into a “me first” culture and unfortunately that won’t change overnight and probably not without a lot of individual and collective pain in the process.

Friedman continues:

If you want to guarantee that America becomes a mediocre nation, then just keep vilifying every public figure struggling to find a way out of this crisis who stumbles once — like Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner or A.I.G.’s $1-a-year fill-in C.E.O., Ed Liddy — and you’ll ensure that no capable person enlists in government. You will ensure that every bank that has taken public money will try to get rid of it as fast it can, so as not to come under scrutiny, even though that would weaken their balance sheets and make them less able to lend money. And you will ensure that we’ll never get out of this banking crisis, because the solution depends on getting private money funds to team up with the government to buy up toxic assets — and fund managers are growing terrified of any collaboration with government.

The speed of communications and the glaring 24 hour a day media microscope has definitely made leadership more challenging than ever but I’m optimistic that there will ultimately be some great leaders who will answer the call. After all, real leadership has always been about service and sacrifice.

Finally, Friedman closes:

Right now we have an absence of inspirational leadership. From business we hear about institutions too big to fail — no matter how reckless. From bankers we hear about contracts too sacred to break — no matter how inappropriate. And from our immature elected officials we hear about how it was all “the other guy’s fault.” I’ve never talked to more people in one week who told me, “You know, I listen to the news, and I get really depressed.”

And that’s a big part of the problem. We nearly always look to our “leaders” to solve our problems for us, it’s just human nature. When they can’t, we turn them into scapegoats and search for the next best thing. The process is cruel but it is what it is and it probably won’t change anytime soon and today’s always on media, raises the stakes exponentially. But again, I’m optmistic (or maybe just plain niave) in thinking that many individuals will rise to the challenge and become the next great leaders who we will refer to in the future as we do today about Washington, Lincoln and FDR.

What do you think, is Friedman right about an inspirational leadership void?

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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