On the news yesterday I heard one of the commentators reference the ongoing presidential debates and their importance in the American political process. He made the point the debates are crucial in assisting voters to select a leader for this nation. He said it was all about leadership…who would do the best job as a leader. Sadly, it came as a jolt to me. It’s so easy to get caught up in the political gamesmanship that we forget what is the ultimate goal – to select someone to LEAD our government and thus our nation. Sadly, I think all the candidates would have been as jolted as me to hear the reference to leadership as the ultimate goal of the political process.

There is a tremendous responsibility to leadership. Being the leader means being responsible for the rules, or changing the rules. Old paradigms live on well beyond their usefulness whether it be in business or presidential campaigns. It takes courage of a sort to change paradigms. There is a mutual fear in business and politics that risk taking is not rewarded or appreciated whether by a board of directors or a voting public. Thus, year after year the same paradigms find their way into vision statements in business and platforms for politicians.

In my book “Theory You” I point out one of the difference between a follower and a leader. Many followers are adept at “taking the hill” and build very successful careers based on their ability to take the hill. On the other hand a leader determines which hill to take. Determining which hill to take is often a revolutionary step in a person’s career, and many successful people are simply unable to graduate to that step. Decision making is a key ingredient in leadership. Great leaders are great decision makers.

A capable follower is good at following the rules or playing by the rules. However, a great leader sets the rules for others to follow. The ability to set the rules forces others to keep up with you. Change is constant in business and certainly constant in domestic and world affairs. Leadership therefore is based upon one’s ability to look forward into the future as opposed to being bound by the past. Instead the great leaders learn from the past but always look ahead.

The brilliant Albert Einstein said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge”. He also said: “I believe in intuition and imagination. At times I feel I am right without knowing the reason”. In his field Mr. Einstein was a great leader. He determined which hills to take, he made great decisions, he always looked to the future while understanding the past, and he redefined the rules. It was as if he learned the following from Confucius who said: “action follows intuition”. Both great men opened new territory and neither was bound by the past. They had great confidence in themselves and confidence in their leadership skill.

The growth of a leader does not stop when one reaches the corner office or oval office. It intensifies. The top spot is a stop on a journey that demands growth and change.

As we examine the candidates for president over the next 13 months it would be wise to evaluate them in terms of leadership…who is or would be the best leader for this nation. The criteria discussed here would help in that assessment:
– the ability to determine the hills to be taken
– decision making ability
– a willingness to drop old paradigms and establish new rules
– an ability and willingness to look into the future
– imagination
– a realization that the oval office is not an end to the process but rather a beginning

The same criteria that businesses use to select successful leaders should apply to the selection of a leader for the country. Leadership is a rare commodity.