October 26, 2009

Gergen Gets It Right: “A National Deficit – Of Leadership”

As David Gergen explores in his recent US News and World Report article, the release of the “America’s Best Leaders” list could not have come at a more dire – and consequently, opportune – time. 

America is facing not only a national economic deficit, but a national leadership deficit as well.  Gergen explains that a “crisis of confidence” regarding America’s leadership is widespread as people grow increasingly hostile towards, and distrustful of, the President, members of Congress, and many of our other national leaders.

Though by no means unchartered waters – “confidence in government plummeted back in the ’60s and ’70s and has never really recovered” – this crisis remains a progress-hampering state of affairs.  As David and I discussed during September’s Summit on Leading in Crisis, the political incivility which existed at that time and has continued today holds the potential for violent eruptions (see: 2009 healthcare town hall meetings), and fosters incredible political polarization.  This contentiousness can create political stalemates which risk America’s ability to remain a respectable or capable worldpower across the long-term 

A crisis indeed.

But as we agreed in September, and as I’ve highlighted in 7 lessons for Leading in Crisis, every crisis holds an opportunity for reinvention and improvement.  We should not waste this crisis of confidence; rather we should use it as an opportunity to bare our concerns candidly and see exactly where we as citizens and leaders can improve. 

One way to accomplish this is to highlight the examples set forth by those select leaders who have demonstrated value-driven leadership and maintained track records of accomplishment during this “crisis of confidence.”

Herein lays the timeliness of the America’s Best Leaders List.  We need to see the likes of Eboo Patel for examples of how we can best bring differing faiths together through shared principles.  We should look to folks like Cory Booker as models for effective and diplomatic political leadership.  And we must keep the Greg Mortensons of the world at the forefront as examples of how individuals can have worldwide positive impact.

David Gergen gets it right – we are in the depths of a crisis.  And he gets a potential solution right as well – we need to turn to “America’s Best Leaders” as models for how we can work through that crisis, and come out improved on the other side.