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Good leaders must tell truth

February 20, 2011|By ART CALLAHAM

Hello readers, my last two columns have been about the desired character traits of those new leaders who are taking over important positions within our community.

To date, I’ve touched on “moving the community forward” and “doing your duty.” Both are very positive traits. Before I leave the topic of leadership, let me dwell for a moment on one trait that could be deemed “negative.”

Sometimes, you just have to tell folks, and that includes the public as a whole, things they don’t want to hear. The unvarnished truth sometimes hurts. Bad news is equally as important as good news, and the truth is sometimes bad news.

Oscar Toney Jr. — a favorite soul singer of mine — lamented in the song, “For Your Precious Love,” that “Into each life a little rain must fall, every day can’t be Sunday, not every smile can be a smile of happiness or every tear that’s shed a tear of joy.” Translation: Sometimes you have to deal with bad news, and great leaders do that well.

Moving away from my Civil War-themed examples concerning leadership and leadership traits, let me use the biblical example of Isaiah’s story.

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; the hem of His robe filled the temple.  Seraphs were in attendance above Him, each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.’ The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.  And I said: ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’ Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send and who will go for us?’  And I said, ‘Hear am I; send me, send me.’”

This is the famous story of the prophet Isaiah, who was in the presence of God and lived to tell about it. You see, God called Isaiah to be a leader and to go tell His people some things they didn’t want to hear.

The story is that God was upset with the actions of His people, and their old habits were going to have to change. Bad news! Shoot the messenger? No. Isaiah did his duty to God and became a great leader of his people.

One of the best leaders I ever worked for often reminded me that “if all you’re going to do is tell me what you think I want to hear, then one of us is unnecessary — and since I’m in charge, I guess you better be leaving.” This same mentor, just before he “fired” someone who didn’t heed his advice, would often send the person a copy of The Washington Post want ads with a note that said: “I was reading these today and thought of you.” Sometimes, you have to deliver the bad news.

Sadly, we’ve all seen leaders pump sunshine (good news) into our ears instead of admitting that there are problems (bad news). Often, those same sunshine pumpers never look for solutions. Equally as bad are the leaders who continually rehash old problems with little thought about new solutions; you know, “we’ve always done it that way.” And finally, there are the leaders who only want to see problems, using the problems themselves to mask their ineptness at developing problem solutions.

Happily, we’ve had some great leaders in our community. In fact, I believe we are growing some new ones even as I write this column.

Over the next few weeks, I intend to ask some of our leaders to express their views on leadership in this column. This will sort of be like “open mic” on leadership. I’ll promise each an opportunity to tell you, the readers, how they intend to lead us into the next decade. It should be worthwhile reading.

Art Callaham is a local community activist and president of the Washington County Free Library Board of Trustees.

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