2004-07-02 / Columnists

The Progressive By John Paul Culotta


The Progressive By John Paul Culotta


During a recent trip to a chain bookstore it became apparent in the self-improvement section that the nebulous aspect of "leadership" is a popular subject. There are books that discuss the leadership qualities and ideas of prominent historical figures, businessmen, and sports figures. The leadership thoughts of William Shakespeare based on his writings was a book in the store. Jesus, Lincoln, Al Capone, Gandhi, and US Grant are also case studies.

All of us can be leaders in some aspect of our life. We should all strive to make our imprint on the world. Parents, firefighters, clergymen, police personnel, doctors, teachers can all be leaders. We confuse leadership with celebrity or social status. I know the people that have been true leaders in my workplace have often been the people who have no status or reward. Why do we assume successful athletes or professional politicians are leaders? Why are we interested in the political or social ideas of actors?

During the mourning period for former President Reagan there was considerable discussion of his leadership methods and style. Comparisons with Franklin Roosevelt, James Carter, and our present president were analyzed. President Reagan’s apology regarding the Iran-Contra affair was mentioned. During the scandal President Reagan told the nation: "A few months ago, I told the American people that I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that this true, but the facts and the evidence tell me that it is not." After President Reagan made this statement, it appears there was minimal adverse opinion of his character.

Bernard Baruch was a successful American businessman and political adviser to presidents of both political parties He lived from 1870 to 1965. He witnessed many changes in his life. He once stated: "During my 87 years I have witnessed a whole succession of technological revolutions. But none of them has done away with the need for character in the individual or the ability to think." I would add these two qualities are essential in a leader. Too often our professional politicians are more interested in their careers than in the best interests of the public. Today, as the Progressive writes this column, our state legislature has not been able to submit a budget that was due on April 1st and it is now near July. This clearly illustrates this fact.

In these times of violent uncertainty it is imperative for this nation to rediscover the values of leadership at all levels of society- politics, business, and family life. It is not true that peril unites a nation. It can also divide. Dishonest charlatans can use times of peril to mislead and accuse the innocent and condone the use of torture. There can be efforts to take away liberties for the sake of safety. The important tasks of safeguarding the food and water supplies, the transportation facilities, and landmarks can be overlooked while we chase witches and ghouls. Does this nation remember how the Cold War resulted in the McCarthy hearings of 50 years ago? At this time, prisoners can be held incommunicado for years, the media is prevented from filming or photographing soldiers’ coffins that have returned from the battlefield and the government can secretly track the books citizens read and movies they watch.

It is true we need to lose some of our civil liberties in times of national peril. The question arises as to what is appropriate behavior for the people who hold positions of responsibility in these times of disorder and terrorism? What is the responsibility of our politicians at all levels, businessmen, union leaders, journalists, teachers and parents?

The first responsibility of all people in positions of responsibility is to use all our strength to maintain a levelheaded approach to problems and not to succumb to emotion and agitation. The captain of a ship that is facing a storm must remain calm despite all the troubling wind and rain that is tossing the vessel. I am convinced that in positions of responsibility, it is essential not to mislead, lie or tell all. Some facts must remain confidential. But, it is essential that the agenda you are setting is clear. The leader must take responsibility and not tell falsehoods or place blame on others. A true leader is willing to admit to mistakes and to correct them. A true leader must never tire of identifying problems, giving explanations and asking for assistance from the nation to resolve the problem.

A true leader has respect for human beings and their dignity. This includes the enemy. During WW II, this nation was noted for the humane treatment of prisoners of war. The Nazis felt when they attacked the Soviet Union that the population would assist them and consider them to be liberators. The populations of the Soviet Union generally were disillusioned with communism and the Nazi intelligence felt this was in their advantage. When Germany attacked, their use of torture and brutal reprisals quickly caused the population to rally around Stalin.

It is easy to use torture, reprisals, vendettas, and to insult, lie and infuriate your enemy. The fact remains it is often ineffective and counterproductive.The true leader transmits optimism and trustworthiness. Above all, in moments of great peril a solution exists. Fear and desperation always brings out demagogues and authorative figures. The use of fear as a political weapon can lead to tyranny. In these times of peril we need a leader who is courageous. When the nation is unsure of the direction the leaders are taking, the peril becomes greater. Courage entails correction of past mistakes, admitting to lies and the misleading of the nation, and a correct balance of civil liberty and safety.

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