Do you ever wonder what happened to the good leaders?
Today, on one end of the spectrum, we hear “leaders” try to parse words so they don’t make anyone too mad at them. On the opposite end, we hear “leaders” say outrageous things to stand out, make political points, or get a spot on some talking head show.
It is easy to be disillusioned with many of the current political “leaders.” From the ridiculous-to-get-attention to the waffle-so-as-to-never-make-a-real-decision, it seems hopeless and getting worse. Leadership capabilities seem to be lost, stranded, side-tracked, flushed… I think you get the idea.
Some hope may exist through two leaders: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and District of Columbia Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. Their leadership capabilities make me hopeful.
From my perspective, these two leaders exhibit three leadership principles which are encouraging and should be taken to heart by others. The demonstrated principles are:
- Do something a little crazy (to make a point)
- Engage – firmly, respectfully
- Be confident in your mission, relentless in your focus
Both exhibit qualities of being intensely focused on their mission and having the refreshing approach of not shying away from what really needs to be done to solve the challenges. In Governor Christie’s case, he has an unruly state budget and economic stress to contend with and resolve. In Chancellor Rhee’s case, she has a school district which has performed dismally in the past and was brought in to turn it around. For both, big challenges are clear and present.
Do something a little crazy (to make a point). Sometimes, leaders need to make a point. Rhee tells a great story when she was a third grade teacher. It was highlighted in a FastCompany article about her.
“To get her audience into listening mode, Rhee tells one of her favorite stories, about the ornery third-grade class she taught at an inner-city school in Baltimore in the early 1990s. One day, a bee buzzed into the classroom, and her kids freaked out. ‘I killed the bee,’ Rhee says to the kids. (‘Whoa!’) ‘Then I popped it into my mouth and I ate it.’ (‘Eeewww!!’) ‘From that day on, they were a little better because they thought I was just a little bit crazy.’ (‘Ohhhh!!!’)”
Doing the unexpected can help quiet the expected noise levels from the critics in the balconies. This is different from saying outrageous things to get attention; in this story, it made a point – You need to pay attention because I mean it when I say it.
Keeping skeptics and critics off-balance can help sometimes, as well as getting people out of their normal comfort zones to consider a new perspective.
Engage – firmly, respectfully. Although some may disagree, neither Governor Christie nor Chancellor Rhee has been disrespectful in the public discussions. They have held firm in the debates. Too often, when the heat rises, “leaders” sometimes melt and try to appease.
I don’t believe Governor Christie has ever been accused of melting from a position.
In a Washington Post column, a Christie exchange with a constituent was described as follows:
“A clip of a back-and-forth Christie had with a teacher over benefits contributions and a wage freeze was shown. In it, the governor says things that far too many politicians wouldn’t dare. When she claims, ‘You’re not compensating me for my education and you’re not compensating me for my experience,’ Christie was blunt. ‘Well, you know what then?,’ he said, ‘you don’t have to do it…. Teachers go into it knowing what the pay scale is.’ His tart retort was met with applause.”
Many politicians would have tried to sympathize, but the Governor held firm. People have appreciated the candor. The ability to be firm is really due to the third principle; it keeps real leaders centered.
Be confident in your mission, relentless in your focus. Both Christie and Rhee are true believers in what they are doing. I have no doubt both want people to join them in resolving the challenges.
In Christie’s case, his state has massive budget deficits and severe economic conditions. His mission was clear – reduce the deficit; put the economy on a better path. In six months, he closed the deficit without raising taxes, and he took on the public employees’ union and won cuts in pensions and benefits. To top it off, Governor Christie pushed through a cap on local property taxes. Governor Christie has not been distracted from his focus of making New Jersey a better place to live and do business, all trying to improve the quality of life of the state’s citizens.
In Rhee’s case, she has worked hard to keep the focus on the right place – on the children. Her mission is clearly stated: “ENSURING THAT ADULT ISSUES NEVER COME BEFORE THE BEST INTERESTS OF CHILDREN.” This is hand-written on an easel, serving as a reminder of the mission.
Another great quote to share from Chancellor Rhee:
“Children are losing their lives because we’re not educating them well. But we’re concerned about those adults? I’m not firing people because I’m mean or heartless or don’t care about people. I’m just not willing to forsake the future of thousands of kids for the comfort of a few adults.”
Pettiness or political expediency should not deter anyone from achieving a higher mission. Too often, personal interests blur the real goal. Steely vision and forthright leadership clears the path to keep moving in the right direction.
Am I hopeful? Time will tell, but I am encouraged by these two leaders (no quotation marks necessary). Right now, Governor Christie and Chancellor Rhee are setting solid leadership examples.
My hope is they don’t disappoint or stray from their approach and others learn from them. In these times, we need more leading from our leaders.
Are you hopeful? Do you have other examples of solid leaders?