by Matt Spence
If we have learned anything at all from the Republican primary so far, it is this: nobody is happy. The candidates for President running in the Republican primary have clearly left everyone wanting more, different, better. Many, regardless of party, feel the same way about President Obama, whether it be out of hopes that there is more to come or fear of what may be unleashed should he win a second term. It got me thinking. What is it that people are looking for and not finding in these candidates? Is it experience, fortitude, aptitude, connection to themselves? I don't think so. I think people are looking for, and not finding, leadership.
In another life, I spent quite a bit of my time reading about, thinking about and writing curriculum on leadership development. Of all the things I taught and spoke about, leadership was the one topic where I felt most at home, and the one topic on which I was most frequently invited to speak. I even developed somewhat of a standard speech. Leadership 101, if you will. I could quote scripture and share personal experience and connect it back to the lives of the audience, but the part that people always seemed to remember was the part I probably spent the most time marinating on... My three essential elements of leadership.
I found myself reflecting on them the other night as the Super Tuesday results were streaming across my Twitter feed and it helped me to place what I have been seeing and hearing and reading for the past 9 months about this field of candidates. Each of them is missing at least one of my key ingredients of leadership. I think that is why none of them can gain any true traction and why Mitt-nertia might be enough to slog all the way to a half-hearted nomination in Tampa this summer.
What are these three elements, you ask?
Integrity. Mission. Passion.
So what do I mean by mission? I will answer that question by asking one. Does the leader have an end game, a goal in mind? In order to ask someone to follow you, knowing where you want to take them is indispensable. But a mission is much more than a destination - a mission is a destination with a purpose and a motive. The presidency is not a mission. "Change you can believe in" is a mission. Change provides the journey and breaking out of the old mold is the purpose. I will not ascribe any motives to Obama 2008, but I will say that it certainly felt like Barack was inviting us to join him on a mission - a mission to restore America's respect both for itself and around the world, a mission to undo much of what had been done over the previous eight years. Whether you agree with the destination or not, there was little doubt that there was a vision for change, a plan for a journey and a compelling narrative and set of ideas driving the bus. Obama laid out a clear mission in 2008 and I believe it was one of the main forces behind his victory.
In 2012 we really have not seen this from ANY of the candidates, including the President. Well, perhaps Newt's mission to prove that he is the smartest person ever to exist counts. I guess you could consider his desire that everyone knows his thoughts are so far above ours that we should just surrender our free will to his beautiful mind a mission. No? What about Santorum's mission? Despite what it may seem, I doubt that his mission is to eradicate the scourge of contraception from this great land. It may be to restore the family as the centerpiece of the American Dream, but he sure can't articulate that. Ron Paul has a clear mission, and I believe that is why his followers are so... intense. We will leave judgment of his ideas for another time, but his mission is clear. Less government, personal responsibility, encourage success by abandoning those who fail. A mission, to be sure. But simply having a mission isn't enough. Leading our country off a cliff is still leading I guess, but not exactly what I am looking for in my Commander-in-Chief. As for Mr. Romney, I do not see it. It is a little ironic that the Mormon is truly unable to display a sense of mission. "I want to be president because I am supposed to be, because I have been campaigning for five years straight, because... I want trees to be a uniform height across America???" You got me. I have no clue what he wants or where he wants to take our country. I think he just got bored with being wealthy. Oh, wait, sorry Mrs. Romney, I forgot, $250 million net worth isn't wealthy. My bad.
Passion is pretty straightforward, but no less critical than the others. Nobody ever followed Eeyore. If you don't care about where you are going and what you are doing, why should anyone else? Passion sustains leaders in the midst of struggle. Passion propels leaders and those who latch on for the ride. Passion is more than salesmanship, more than excitement or shouting. I have always loved the title of Bob Graham's biography "Quiet Passion" because it is dead-on. Passion doesn't have to be loud, but it does have to be firm. Tony Dungy almost never raised his voice, but his players could lok into his eyes and see the fire, the will that made him such a powerful leader of men. Passion. It isn't dependent on circumstance. It comes from within and it propels a leader. Followers gravitate to passion, good or bad and this, even more than his lack of a clear mission, in my opinion, is Mitt Romney's Achilles heel.
It has become such a problem that he might actually benefit from a Howard Dean Iowa scream at this point. I used to think that the whole cyborg thing was a silly joke, but the closer we get to the nomination, the more I expect to see a picture of him plugged in to the wall instead of sleeping in a bed. Newt certainly has passion, but it is mostly directed toward himself. That is one guy who is very excited about how great he sees himself to be. Santorum shows flashes, can certainly be passionate about specific topics and his family. Paul... Yep he is passionate... Crazy, and well outside of the mainstream, but passionate. Well, except when it comes time to confront Mitt. It seems that the passion dissipates there...
Integrity. More than simply being what you say you are, integrity goes much deeper in the context of leadership. How does a leader treat someone who can do nothing for him? How does a little power affect his relationships, his attitude, his actions? This one is the toughest to judge, and the toughest to get an accurate read. I do not really feel all that comfortable judging other people's level of integrity, yet it matters a great deal in a leader. It really comes down to what you profess as your personal creed and how well you live it. This is why people are so interested in Mitt's Mormonism, Obama's lack of a regular/consistent place of worship, Newt's newfound Catholic piety, and yes, Santorum's strict and poorly explained (and some could argue poorly applied) Catholicism. Because you may not be able to get a true reading on how well someone lives their creed, but at least you can gain some insight into them by understanding what exactly their creed is. Much of Santorum's surge is due to his clear creed. Those who can identify with it know they have an ally who believes what they do and they just do not seem comfortable saying that of Romney or Obama. Santorum knew exactly what he was doing when he brought up the President's "world view". He knew who he was speaking to and they knew what he meant. In this case, the President's integrity was not being questioned. In a backhanded way, Santorum was complimenting him on his integrity by calling his creed into question.
So when the GOP finally, reluctantly comes together around Mitt Romney, I do not believe it will do so because they see in him a great leader, but because they haven't found it anywhere else. The big question in November will become "whose leadership do you trust?" and the election will turn on whether Obama has retained enough people who still trust in his or if Mitt can make believers out of enough of those who no longer do.