“Kinder, gentler” American leaders… Is that what we need more of? Do we need leaders who are just real thoughtful and ponderous, you know, consensus seekers leading from the middle? I guess the answer to that is, if we’re happy with the overall direction of the leadership trends in America, YES! But if we look around and find that maybe we’re not so satisfied with the politically-correct climate that seems to persist today then, well… maybe no.
Friedman’s observations that the “most dependent members of [our] organization (America) set the agendas and… adaptation is constantly toward weakness rather than strength”1 articulated a nagging sense that I have been wrestling with for a long time. If no one differentiates him/herself from the rest, the steady migration toward mediocrity as a society is inevitable. Weakness defines us rather than greatness. So how has this come to be the norm? How is it that we tend to pull over-achievers down a few clicks closer to the under-achievers in the name of “fairness?”
I have often considered whether or not we, in the Christian community, have misappropriated meekness and humility in this regard. Because we “ought not think more highly of ourselves that we should” and “there but for the grace of God go I…” we excuse-make for those who are living below their potential. The progression of thought goes something like this: “Well… we can’t really blame that meth addicted loser who is turning over his 3rd son to the Department of Family and Children’s Services for his condition because after all… there but for the grace of God go I…” We’re being empathetic right? Isn’t that a characteristic of a leader to be pursued? “However lofty the original concept of empathy (a word that only came into the English language in 1922), societal regression has distorted it to the point at which it has become a power tool in the hands of the weak to sabotage the strong.”2 Then our misguided empathy drives us to create policy that is wrapped around the needs of the weak while demonizing those that buck the system and do well for themselves! It seems that this is the end result of group-think. Individuals that distinguish themselves from the crowd are shouted down and accused rather than celebrated and learned from. This is the social environment in which American leaders are expected to lead.
So, how can a leader be self-differentiated with being a jerk? Can he/she be gracious, merciful, kind, a defender of the oppressed and downtrodden while still being willing to distinguish him/herself from the rest by making decisive, principled decisions even without the support of a consensus? Can a leader REALLY be a leader or does he/she have to be an organizer? I tend to agree with Friedman that if we are to survive this “nationalized neurosis of anxiety”3 we had better hope that more real leaders will emerge. Let’s hope we don’t allow a failure of nerve to mark our leadership.
- Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix (New York: SEABURY BOOKS, 2007) Kindle. Loc. 296.
- Ibid. Loc. 520.
- Ibid. Loc. 1031.