October 15, 2008, Washington, DC:
Each time there is a crisis, the current financial meltdown being an example, we cry for a great leader to dig us out of the hole. This leads, I believe, to the unfortunate tendency to accept that only a “great” leader can do what needs to be done. As an East Texas farm boy at heart, I have always looked for the easiest way to do things, and I have a revolutionary solution to offer. Instead of waiting for great leaders to get us out of trouble, perhaps we should strive for competent, effective leadership across the board and we would get into less trouble.
Sound like heresy? Perhaps, but I firmly believe that when leadership, public or private, is effective – doing the right things the right way – there are fewer crises to deal with.
I’ll use a “hypothetical” example to show what I mean. Embassy X is in a developing country with a depressed economy and high rates of fraud. It also just happens to be a source of healthy infants to be adopted by American couples. Effective leadership would assess this situation and look for ways to minimize the incidence of fraud in the lucrative adoption industry. At a minimum, this would involve senior management monitoring consular operations to ensure all rules and regulations are followed to the letter, and that consular officers exercise due diligence when processing visa applications – ever on the lookout for fraudulent paperwork or evidence of “baby selling.” The price of ineffective, hands-off leadership can be predicted. There is a crisis, fraud is discovered by the media, fingers are pointed, and the leader on whose watch it erupted is ill-equipped to deal with it. Worse, it is even harder for incoming management to “fix” the problem, and restore the trust and confidence in the system that is eroded by such occurrences.
Another example of the importance of effective leadership took place in Sierra Leone in 1996. The newly-elected president, Ahmed Tejan Kabba, was a gentle, well-meaning retired UN official, who had all the earmarks of great leadership. What he lacked, due to lack of experience and training, was the ability to see the day-to-day problems and anticipate how they could escalate into crisis if solutions were not applied. He also did not take into account the strong influence of tribalism in this impoverished West African country. The result was that after only a year in office he was overthrown in a military coup. A coup that I am convinced could have been averted if he had spent more time cultivating the military hierarchy early in his tenure. It took the intervention of the British and the Nigerians to restore him to the presidency. To his credit, after a few false starts, he did learn and by the end of his term, he was performing effectively. That the country has now had a peaceful transfer of power, despite the persistent presence of political disputes that are tribally based, is a testament to this.
Relying on effective leadership rather than waiting for an Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King, Jr., to come along, is another way of exercising personal responsibility. This is something that everyone, but most especially leaders, should have at the top of the to-do list.
Causes Charles Ray Supports
The Nature Conservancy
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial