Leadership qualities over policies
American will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves. ~ Abraham Lincoln
Now that the Republican and Democratic conventions have passed, I thought it would be an appropriate time to circle the wagons and answer some of the questions my previous article, Three Things I Want in a Political Party generated.
In the article, I noted I am a voter without a party and that this is a problem because I am one of many, sentiment that would be echoed by Michael Bloomberg during his convention speech:
When the Founding Fathers arrived in Philadelphia to forge a new nation, they didn’t come as Democrats or Republicans, or to nominate a presidential candidate. They came as patriots who feared party politics.
I know how they felt.
I’ve been a Democrat. I’ve been a Republican. And I eventually became an independent, because I don’t believe either party has a monopoly on good ideas or strong leadership. When I enter the voting booth, I look at the candidate, not the party label. I have supported elected officials from both sides of the aisle. (source).
Like Bloomberg, I have supported elected officials from both sides of the aisle and although I disagree with Hillary Clinton on many issues, Bloomberg says it better than I could:
This election is not a choice between a Democrat and a Republican. It’s a choice about who is better to lead our country right now: better for our economy, our security, our freedom and our future.
I would add, this is a choice more about leadership qualities, less about policies. I’ll explain.
Over the past few months I have met (in person and via this blog) many of you who, in looking for an unbeholden “outsider” to shake things up in Washington, would have a hard time casting a vote for Clinton.
I get it.
Some of you find it untenable, absolutely impossible to vote for her. I likely won’t sway you. If that’s the case – no need to read on. As I recently saw in a meme somewhere:
Wow, that internet argument totally changed my fundamental belief system…said no one ever.
As a fiscally conservative small business owner with a libertarian bent who values faith, hard work, honesty, and personal responsibility, there are times I feel like Washington could benefit from an outside view. That said, despite her flaws I, like Bloomberg *, believe Hillary Clinton is the “right and responsible choice” in this election and here are three reasons why.
Inexperienced leaders put the well-being (or welfare) of those they lead at risk.
In the middle of my junior year of military high school, we lost our baseball coach and, for reasons to which I wasn’t privy, they promoted one of the assistant football coaches to the position. Unfortunately for this pitcher, the new, very inexperienced coach, over-trained me to the point of serious injury and it wasn’t long before my days as a baseball player were over. To his credit though, so that I could sleep through the excruciating pain caused by my now blown-out arm, he was kind enough to put me in touch with one of his apothecaries who apparently helped to keep the football team on the field in his spare time (when he wasn’t treating livestock).
Experience matters friends, and when inexperienced people are put into positions beyond their capacity, the people they lead can get hurt.
Indeed, having taken over Evaero three months before September 11th, 2001, I quickly found myself in over my head when sales dropped 50 percent and, as a result, not only did my company, customers and employees bear the consequences of my inexperience, but so too did my family.
Hillary Clinton is one of the most deeply qualified presidential candidates in history. In addition to serving as a senator from the great state of New York and as Secretary of State, she gained experience on both the national and international stage while serving as first lady.
Like many of you, I’d like to see Washington benefit from a business mindset so it can finally get its financial house in order. While some want to see a revolution, incremental change will certainly be more beneficial to the 99 percent of us with no margin for error in our savings accounts.
Further, saying the experiences gained while running a business qualify you to run the country is like saying the experiences gained as a livestock veterinarian qualify you to be a medical doctor.
Good leaders hold steady at the helm.
During our honeymoon, my wife and I took sailing lessons at the awesome OCSC. Our instructor told us about a time he crewed for a captain who had previously been employed by a well-to-do family to sail their boat to different moorings.
According to the weather forecast, the trip was to have been an uneventful one but, along the way, they encountered an epic storm and as the weather worsened our instructor started to get nervous and make mistakes. He then described how against the backdrop of giant waves and sheets of rain, the captain started to calmly and continually issue instructions while keeping a steady hand on the wheel. It turned out to have made all the difference, for in seeing the captain so calm he was able to settle his nerves and get the job done.
The fact is, one of the most important jobs a leader has is to not lose her shit. Spend some time learning about our truly great presidents and, whether it be Washington, Lincoln, or Roosevelt, among the characteristics that helped them guide our country and its citizens forward through the most difficult of times was a steadfast resolve in the face of the greatest of odds.
Simply put, Hillary Clinton does not lose her shit – temperament that will serve all of us well regardless of which side of the tracks you live or which side of the aisle you may sit **.
Wondering how the story told by our instructor ends? Although the boat and crew were beaten up, they made it to harbor and after tying off, the captain pulled out a bottle of whiskey, filled some glasses, raised his glass and said:
That was the biggest storm I’ve ever been in in my life.
Steady hands indeed.
Now, some might argue (and appreciate) that Trump tells it like it is. While you can appreciate people who speak what is on their mind, unless you run a monopoly or a monarchy, that is not how business or politics works. The fact of the matter is, in the give and take world of capitalism or democracy, if you’re representing a diverse group of people who are counting on you for their livelihood, you simply don’t have the privilege of being off the cuff.
Good leaders understand empathy is a strength, not a weakness.
As is common in many institutions, but particularly so in military school, during the first year you are broken down and (hopefully) built back up. To varying degrees and in varying ways, when I attended military school, the breaking down part involved hazing. After a particularly vivid rite of passage that left my entire back side black and blue I noted to a group of cadets that when I returned next year I would never do this. Almost in chorus the entire group said “everyone says that but…” Sadly they were right – the following year when cadets returned with privilege and power the cycle continued.
What is it about power and privilege that it becomes difficult for men to put themselves in the shoes of others?
University of California Irvine psychologist Paul Piff studies how social hierarchy, inequality, and emotion shape relations between individuals and groups. In controlled studies what he has found is increased wealth and status in society leads to increased self focus and in turn decreased compassion, altruism, and ethical behavior.
While there are always refreshing exceptions, it certainly seems corporate life in America mimics the patterns documented by Paul. In the mid 90s, I recall reading about a CEO whose nearly $50 million dollar salary “irked” some employees.
Described as a John Wayne-like character in the article, in response to a foreman yelling out “Do you deserve your pay?” his response back in front of a sea of workers was “Yes, do you deserve yours?!”
Simple question – simple answer. Fair enough.
I cannot help but think by first putting on the shoes of the person getting paid 0.001 as much, that the question begs for a different, kinder response.
Although some will have you believe empathy is best left to those with “small hands,” the evidence is clear that capitalism and democracy are better served by leaders who consider others in their responses, strategies, and decisions. Those who can’t do this, can’t make progress without the detritus of bodies left in their wake.
From the Harvard Business Review, for example, we learn that:
There is a direct link between empathy and commercial success. Businesses are more profitable and productive when they act ethically, treat their staff well, and communicate better with their customers.
Citing history professor Robert Cotter, we learn from American journalist and political commentator Bill Moyers that:
The most remarkable quality of Abraham Lincoln was his empathy for people he didn’t personally know. The working man. The soldier in battle. The widows and orphans.
Hillary Clinton has a proven track record of connecting and working with others to effect change, reach compromise, and improve the lives of people she doesn’t personally know. As I watch petty elected officials fail to do their jobs while the small business owners and workers who are still recovering from suffocating effects of the last recession suck it up and head to work day-in-day-out, it’s apparent to me we could use a little of that kind of empathy today.
Now, some might argue empathy takes the eye off of winning, I’d argue that in not focusing on winning at all times and at all costs, as I recall hearing the great Israeli author Amos Oz say in a different context, we afford ourselves a Chekhovian ending rather than a Shakespearean one — in the former everyone gets to leave, in the latter there are just bodies strewn about.
There are limited checks and balances on the commander in chief.
As I’ve noted, she’s not perfect and I disagree with many (most?) of her policies. Some might argue she, like many politicians, stands up for people when it suits her purpose. I’d be hard-pressed to debate you on that. Further, if you were to bring up the State Department email debacle, other than taking heart knowing that a lot of Nigerian grandmothers are probably better off, all I can say is if cybersecurity expert and BlackHat founder Jeff Moss can forgive and endorse her, so can I:
If Hillary is sort of almost status quo and the devil we know versus complete crazy unknown, I’m not willing to risk the country on the complete crazy unknown. (Jeff Moss as quoted by NPR)
For me though, this is a simple choice. As Commander in Chief, this person becomes the chief decider where experience, steadiness and empathy play a critical role. As President, provided the legislative and judicial branches of our government are functioning (clearly a big “if” these days), whatever policies are proposed or signed by executive order ***, will eventually undergo all of our scrutiny before becoming the law of the land.
And that my friends, is why in this election I choose leadership qualities over policies.
* Couldn’t think of a better man to join Clinton’s cabinet than Bloomberg. If it happens and he needs someone to make him some coffee I’m ready to serve (yes, Hillary, I’ll make you some as well.).
**In this YouTube video for example you can watch Clinton answer nearly 40 years of sexism (h/t Good).
***An alarming trend in our democracy has been the rise of power in the executive branch via executive and administrative orders and actions. Recent examples include committing the U.S. to the Paris Agreement and the Clean Power Plan. However, as noted by the always excellent James Surowiecki of the New Yorker, “policies implemented via executive order are more vulnerable to reversal than ones that Congress writes into law.” As we see with the Clean Power Plan, provided the other branches of government are working, even executive orders that have gone through a formal “rulemaking” process can receive their due diligence.
For those of you who are interested, this short animated video does a great job of outlining what empathy is and why it’s different than sympathy (h/t open culture). Definitely worth the 2 minute and 50 second look.
Video not displaying properly? click here.