Thursday, January 4, 2007

Leadership: America, We Have A Problem!

Lessons From The Life Of President Gerald R. Ford

Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.

The National Study of Confidence in Leadership (NSCL) is a social science research program examining the attitudes of the American public toward the nation’s leadership. The study includes the National Leadership Index 2006 (NLI), a multidimensional measure of the public’s confidence in the leadership of different sectors of society. Launched in 2005, in collaboration with U.S.News & World Report, the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and Yankelovich, Inc., the national study brings new insights to our understanding of the public’s confidence in America’s leadership. The results of the recent study should be sobering for anyone in leadership positions.

The results should come as no surprise to any of us considering the corporate scandal du jour, Katrina, the war in Iraq, etc. etc. etc. It is times like this that require those in leadership positions in all sectors to look in the proverbial mirror. According to the study, few sectors are spared from criticism by the American public. Business leadership, as shown below, ranks just above Congress, the Executive Branch, and the press - all trending down from the previous year.

Over the holidays, I like many Americans, mourned the passing of our 38th President, Gerald R. Ford. I was deeply moved by the many eulogies from the people who knew him well - from both sides of the political spectrum, as well as, the press who covered his political career. Although he served only 895 days in the Oval Office, this was a man of honesty, integrity, and strong values - a man of courage and sensitivity. Every eulogy reminded us that he was a man who had adversaries, but no enemies. He could disagree, without being disagreeable. He was self-deprecating and never lost his sense of humor. He was a man of substance, not rhetoric - a man of conviction, not convenience. Gerald R. Ford was a true leader.

Unlike the partisan politics of today, he sought advice from both sides of aisle. He made thoughtful decisions - not based on polls, focus groups, or consultants - but on what was best for the American people. In his own words, "in order to bind the wounds of a nation" after the resignation of President Nixon over the Watergate scandal, he decided to grant a pardon to the former President. It was a highly unpopular decision at the time and despite the fact that he knew it would probably cost him the election (which it did), he made the courageous decision in the best interest of the country. History has proven it was the right decision.

In 2001, President Ford was presented with the John F. Kennedy Profile In Courage Award for his courage in making that decision. Senator Ted Kennedy, at the awards ceremony, a critic of the decision at the time, said the following:

At a time of national turmoil, America was fortunate that it was Gerald Ford who took the helm of the storm-tossed ship of state. Unlike many of us at the time, President Ford recognized that the nation had to move forward, and could not do so if there was a continuing effort to prosecute former President Nixon. So President Ford made a courageous decision, one that historians now say cost him his office, and he pardoned Richard Nixon. I was one of those who spoke out against his action then. But time has a way of clarifying past events, and now we see that President Ford was right. His courage and dedication to our country made it possible for us to begin the process of healing and put the tragedy of Watergate behind us. He eminently deserves this award, and we are proud of his achievement.

Despite the fact that his decision would cost him the Presidency, he did the right thing. We could all learn a lesson in real leadership from our 38th President.

Farewell, Mr. President, and thank you.