For some time I have been thinking about leadership. What does the term even mean? And how does it fit into our world today? I am not literally talking about the meaning of the word itself. Wikipedia describes it as "The ability to affect human behavior so as to accomplish a mission designated by the leader." I think that pretty much nails it. What I am talking about are the real world manifestations of leadership. Examples abound, both positive and negative.
On one side, let's look at President Bush. Yes, he's a leader, by default the President of the United States is a leader. But what to do with it? How to use it to your, and most especially (in this case) country's best interests? After 9-11-01, the country was more or less unified - practically begging for leadership. President Bush blew it. Yes, he did the right thing in deposing the Taliban, and Saddam, but screwed up practically everything else. First, he essentially told the country "Nothing to see here... Move along now to the mall and shop 'til you drop." In other words - EXACTLY the wrong thing. People being led want - no need - to feel as it they are a part of the struggle. To be told that you can and should pretend that life is status quo ante is not only absurd, it is counterproductive. "Freedom isn't free" but you can pretend it is!!! If people are sacrificing in some noticable way, they are more inclined to "buy in" to your idea and thus keep it on course even when the storms come. Then, to follow up on that blunder, he made matters infinitely worse by adopting a policy of never ever explaining anything about what was going on in the world and why he was making the decisions that he was. I call this the Loves Me Like a Rock based on the words of the song by the O'Jays:
And if I was president
The men of congress call my name
I'd say who do
Who do you think you're foolin
I got the presidential seal
I'm up on the presidential podium
My momma loves me
She loves me
She gets down on her knees and hugs me
Like she loves me like a rock
In other words - I'm the decider and I'm right, now shut the hell up.
Now... rewind to 1961. The United States is in the deepest, darkest hours of the cold war. Another superpower is threatening to eclipse the freedoms that we as americans hold dear. President Kennedy knows that if the Soviets can make America look weak, that their converts in the world will quickly multiply. He also knows that the military (i.e. nuclear) option is madness but the US must look like the "king of the hill" in the eyes of the world. And he know that the current technological rage of space exploration is the best - maybe the only way to capture the world's attention that way. Or as his Vice President put it "Mister President, America cannot afford to be in Second Place".
So the young president gives a speech to congress. I highly recommend that you read the whole text, but I will provide out takes, with my emphasis here:
"These are extraordinary times. And we face an extraordinary challenge. Our strength as well as our convictions have imposed upon this nation the role of leader in freedom's cause... No role in history could be more difficult or more important. We stand for freedom... Read: This is serious stuff
I therefore ask the Congress, above and beyond the increases I have earlier requested for space activities, to provide the funds which are needed to meet the following national goals:
First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish... Read: This is going to be a long and tough road.
Let it be clear--and this is a judgment which the Members of the Congress must finally make--let it be clear that I am asking the Congress and the country to accept a firm commitment to a new course of action, a course which will last for many years and carry very heavy costs: 531 million dollars in fiscal '62--an estimated seven to nine billion dollars additional over the next five years. If we are to go only half way, or reduce our sights in the face of difficulty, in my judgment it would be better not to go at all. Read: Don't start what you are unwilling to finish.
Now this is a choice which this country must make, and I am confident that under the leadership of the Space Committees of the Congress, and the Appropriating Committees, that you will consider the matter carefully.
It is a most important decision that we make as a nation. But all of you have lived through the last four years and have seen the significance of space and the adventures in space, and no one can predict with certainty what the ultimate meaning will be of mastery of space.
I believe we should go to the moon. But I think every citizen of this country as well as the Members of the Congress should consider the matter carefully in making their judgment, to which we have given attention over many weeks and months, because it is a heavy burden, and there is no sense in agreeing or desiring that the United States take an affirmative position in outer space, unless we are prepared to do the work and bear the burdens to make it successful. If we are not, we should decide today and this year.
Read: I repeat, this is going to be wildly difficult and expensive!!!
Notice the difference??? President Kennedy got the NATION working towards a goal, and investing in that goal. And as a result, not only did we not forget it after his death, we MADE IT HAPPEN, because we refused to do otherwise.