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Lloyd Waters: In search of a leader? Pick one

January 22, 2012|By LLOYD WATERS

Everyone seems to have an opinion about what makes a good leader. But when it comes to selecting one, one’s presumed wisdom can often get in the way.

Finding a leader who thinks more of others than self, makes good decisions and prevails in a crisis are leadership traits I admire.

Some months ago, I was reading a little quiz about leadership on the Internet. Almost at the same time, I was preparing a presentation for Sunday school about the Apostle Paul’s view of what constitutes a good leader in the church.

I decided to combine the two thoughts and hold an ad hoc election during the Sunday school service.

I gave all of those present an opportunity to vote for three candidates and a scenario I had recently reviewed. It went something like this.

“This morning, we are looking for a good leader and it is very important that you listen to what I know about the three candidates who are competing for office,” I said.

Listen carefully.

“Candidate A is known to associate with crooked politicians, consults astrologists, has at least one mistress, chain smokes and drinks several martinis daily.

“Candidate B has been in politics for a while, been kicked out of office twice, usually sleeps until noon and drinks a quart of whiskey a day.

“Candidate C is a decorated war hero, is mostly a vegetarian who abstains from smoking, has an occasional beer and has not had any extra marital affairs.”

As I asked for a display of hands from the pews, I said, “Who among you will cast your vote for Candidate A?” No hands were raised.

“How many of you would like to cast your vote for Candidate B?” Someone asked me to repeat that person’s qualifications.

“Candidate B has been in politics for a while, been kicked out of office twice, usually sleeps until noon and drinks a quart of whiskey a day.

“Who wants to cast their vote for Candidate B?”

No hands in the church went up.

Finally, it was time to cast a vote for Candidate C — the decorated war hero and practicing vegetarian who doesn’t smoke or have extra marital affairs, and has an occasional beer.

“Who wants to vote for Candidate C?” All the hands in the church went up.

“Congratulations,” I said. “You passed on Candidate A,  Franklin Roosevelt. You passed on Candidate B, Winston Churchill. And you elected Candidate C, Adolf Hitler.”

Choosing a leader based on personal behavior alone might not be the best criteria, I concluded.

How many people usually get it right, I wondered.

Fellow columnist Allan Powell suggested the other week that some of our better leaders might actually benefit from a touch of mental illness. According to his readings, a touch of mental illness might actually help a leader make good decisions during a crisis.

Maybe that’s what made me such a good warden; I was a bit crazy.

Perhaps, in those examples above, one who drinks martinis and whiskey might also make a good leader. Who knows for sure?

I do know a few things, however, about leadership.

What you see is not often what you get.

What a leader says is not often what he actually does.

And, if you’re not prepared, as a leader, to make “good” decisions, you will fail miserably.

George Custer was a failure who suffered from self-importance; Ambrose Burnside was a failure who didn’t know how to cross a bridge; and George McClellan was a failure who looked impressive but had no courage when it counted.

Miserable failures, yet many people had a lot of confidence in their ability at one time.

Soon, we’ll be electing a president. Are you ready to “pick one?” You had better consider a lot of things before you do. Your future depends on it. 


Lloyd “Pete” Waters is a Sharpsburg resident who writes columns for The Herald-Mail.

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