December 30, 2011

Americans’ Confidence in Its Leaders Hits New Low

The 2011 National Leadership Index indicates that Americans’ confidence in its leaders has hit new low points: the overall index has fallen from 101.4 in 2005 to 89.4 in this month’s survey, even below the 2008 level in the midst of the financial meltdown. (100 is the normative level of confidence.)

The index is highly reliable as it is based on interviews of 1,065 Americans and conducted by the Center for Public Leadership, headed by Professor David Gergen at Harvard Kennedy School. These results are very worrisome to me, as without trust and confidence in our leaders, America cannot recover the energy and optimism required to restore its domestic economy and global leadership.

The survey indicates that 77% of Americans believe the U.S. has a leadership crisis. Without better leaders, America will decline as a nation, according to 77% of those interviewed.  Seventy-six percent disagree with the proposition that our country’s leaders are effective and do a good job.

Among leadership categories, military and medical leaders continue to top the list, scoring at 112 and 105, respectively. At the very bottom are Congressional and Wall Street leaders, with ratings of 73 and 71, both down sharply from the upper 90’s in 2005. Business leaders fare slightly better at 87, with the White House at 84.5 and media at 84.

The survey’s authors’ observe, “Americans have deeper, more abiding confidence in leaders who can still get something done, and do so with a clear commitment to a greater social good, such as security or health. And they are largely withholding confidence from sectors such as Congress, Wall Street, the media, and the Executive Branch, whose leaders convey the impression that they cannot act effectively for the common good.” Painfully, many leaders in these latter sectors consistently put self-interest ahead of their responsibilities to their institutions and to society as a whole, something I believe it is the greatest failing in this generation of leaders.

The survey concludes on an upbeat note, “For leaders in every sector, and especially those who now inspire very little confidence, these findings are a call to prompt action and substantial changes in behavior. The stakes are high; the nation’s challenges are grave, and the consequences of failed leadership today will be felt

for decades to come.” In the survey’s only hint of optimism, 77% believe the nation’s problems can be solved with better leaders, indicating the extreme importance of effective leadership.

I strongly support these conclusions, and the urgent need for the United States to develop and select new leaders who are committed to put the common good ahead of their own interests.  Then, and only then, can the vitality of the United States be restored to its position of global leadership. Kudos to CPL for its vital role in developing this new generation of leaders.