Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Convention(al) Wisdom on Leadership

Convention season in the US offers us a wonderful opportunity to watch some eloquent speakers wax poetic on their vision of the world; while admittedly, they also work to demonize the opposition as either un-American or out of touch. But if you love language, it's entertaining to listen to a speaker turn a phrase or paint a picture to make a point regardless of whether you may agree with it.

Of all the great passages I've heard over the past few weeks, (and I'm sure they'll be many more by Thursday night), I was particularly struck by a phrase Bill Clinton used last Wednesday night. It wasn't a partisan potshot, but a profound statement about leadership. And one that's as relevant to business as it is to politics. In speaking to the role of the United States as a world leader, he said (and I'm paraphrasing), the world has always been more impressed with the power of our example than by the example of our power.

James Kouzes and Barry Posner, authors of The Leadership Challenge, were likely beaming at such a remark. Among their five leadership practices, they advocate the importance of modeling the way. "Leaders set the example by behaving in ways that are consistent with shared values."

Everyone knows that staying true to one's values is easier during good times than during difficult times. For whoever becomes president, I hope he takes the concept of modeling the way to heart. Our standing in the world depends on it, and it will also serve as a model for the leaders with whom we work each and every day.

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