Monday, September 12, 2005

Ohio State vs Texas. A conversation about Leadership

The new Big Game happened and our guys lost -- at least on the scoreboard. The Bucks played with a lot of skill and even more heart. They went nearly the whole game without a turnover, and made their share of big plays. The OSU defense played very well, holding Texas to one touchdown until late in the game. I don't think their OB would have survived another series of downs, given the way his was limping around at the end of the game.One side has to lose, and unfortunately, this year it was us. We're not really very good losers here in Columbus. It's not like we are nasty to the fans and players from the other side, although there are certainly some who engage in that behavior.

The problem in our community is that we would prefer to second guess people who do make decisions rather than to make decisions outselves. It's easy to get folks around here to take one of two positions:
"If it were my decision to make, this is what I would do." In other words, the event hasn't happened yet, so everyone can give an opinion.

"If it had been my decision to make, this is what I would have done." In this case, the critic has the advantage of knowing exactly what decision was made and how it came out. Presumably it was unacceptable in some way.
The hypocricy is that few people actually want to stand up as a leader and take responsibility for the performance of an organization. We beat down our public leaders by chosing criticism over useful feedback. We make our leaders feel like targets rather than respecting them for their willingness to serve.

What we end up with are public leaders drawn from a pool of folks who are the ambitious puppets of powerful people. These leaders are corrupt at worst, and compromised at best. We love them if they make decisions that benefit us personally, and want to see them impeached if they mess with our comfy lives. So they dole out enough favors to get elected and stay in power, but their agenda is to serve the puppet masters, not society as a whole. Their thinking horizon is from election to election, not generations.

Maybe Jim Tressel should have played Troy Smith in that last series before Texas scored. There's lots of woulda, coulda, shoulda in that game. The point is that Tressel was the man who had the guts to make the decisions. Getting second-guessed and criticized comes with the territory. I know that. When did collegiate sports get so out of control?

Our country has some citizens who are great leaders. There are many examples of business leaders who are inspiring, visionary, ethical and effective. We don't hear much about them because they're not glory hogs like Donald Trump.

Our military has plenty of skilled and honorable leaders. On some History Channel show the other day, I heard a retired Army general talk about the first Gulf War. He said that Saddam Hussein had the bad luck of running into the US military at a time when a rennaisance had taken place in the uniformed services. The top leaders were Vietnam vets who knew what a bad war looked like, and who suffered through the dark years of the 60s and 70s. They answered the call when Reagan decided to pour the Treasury into the military to get the country going again. The US military ended the 1980s with the best equipment, the best trained troops, and most effective leaders since World War II. Hussein didn't have a chance against Schwartzkopf.

So why couldn't we get Stormin' Norman to run for President?

That's easy. Schwartzkopf spent an entire career getting ready for Desert Storm, and it was his masterpiece. He had achieved one of the top posts in the military (the CINCs are much more powerful than the Chiefs of Staff), was given an opportunity to use all the toys and training, and executed his mission masterfully, achieving a victory of magnitude and honor. He knew that there was little chance of having the stars align this way in his career again. He could retire with all the honor his military brothers could bestow on him, as a national hero. He would be the Big Dog in every gathering of generals and admirals for the rest of his life. I don't think he cares what anyone outside this group thinks of him.

George W Bush is an ant compared to someone like Schwartzkopf. Bush is the General's inferior in every dimension: leader, warrior, scholar, and thinker. I fear Kerry would have been worse. I think Kerry is smarter than Bush, but I trust him less.

This is a huge challenge before us as a country: how do we foster an environment where the best leaders are willing to lend their skills to high level public office?

It starts with our being willing to give a guy the benefit of the doubt once in a while...

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