Monday, February 18, 2008

President's Day 

Although I've written about this recently, President's Day is a reminder that neither countries nor companies nor sports teams get great leadership often. Great leaders are rare and they are fashioned partially by circumstances in which they find themselves -- Washington, the founding of the country; Lincoln, the salvation of it; Roosevelt, the Great Depression; Truman, the end of World War II and start of the Cold War. Most leaders are competent but not enduring. They serve their time and move on. Their records may be good, but that is all. They help institutions they lead, but they don't move them into a new place because there is no need for that. They solve problems, but they are not asked to manage life-threatening ones.

The questions arising from this are several. If there is no need for great leadership, why do we expect it? Why do we compensate leaders as if all were expected to be great? Why do we demand outstanding performance when there isn't much chance of it -- or need for it? One answer is that one can never know when a leader is thrust into circumstances that require extraordinary performance. No one can predict the future. Why we compensate leaders so well is laid to an issue of scarcity, but it is more than that. Why we demand outstanding performance all of the time is baffling. It seems that once an individual becomes a leader, we take away humanity from performance. Humans make mistakes: We don't allow leaders mistakes. That is silly, of course, but we do it anyway.

As communicators, we face the humanity of leadership constantly. We see up close where CEOs bungle, and we're asked to cover up their errors. If CEOs were more humble, and we were more honest, we wouldn't do that. The CEO would acknowledge the error. We would communicate it. That doesn't happen often -- nor will it. Humans don't like to admit mistakes, especially humans in charge. So, we live with the folly of leadership. It is part of the PR job.


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