Politician or Leader?

Image from League of Women Voters of California on Flckr

“A politician thinks of the next election; a statesman [or leader] of the next generation.” (James Freeman Clarke, 1870)

2012, a year that will have seen, by its end, thirty presidential elections around the world, provides ample opportunity for sorting out the politicians from the leaders. In my home of the U. S., Election Day, now 41 days away, brings out the best and the worst in candidates.

Of course, most candidates are a blend of politician and leader, succumbing partly to the pressures of the next election. How can we choose wisely, discerning the degree to which a candidate exhibits real leadership rather than mere political savvy? As we consider candidates, some guiding questions that go beyond party lines might be: To what extent does this candidate focus on future generations and their needs? To what extent does this candidate focus on the issues rather than personal attacks on his/her opponent? To what extent is this candidate qualified and able to tackle the issues?

Furthermore, we get the elected officials we deserve. They mirror us. Robert Kegan, in his book In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life, noted almost twenty years ago that many of the mental demands of modern life are beyond most people’s level of mental and emotional development. However, the U. S. greatly needs not only mature leaders but also mature citizens, voters who can direct our country’s path toward the best possible future. We might also ask ourselves: To what extent do I focus on future generations and their needs? To what extent do I focus on the issues rather than being swayed by personal attacks? To what extent do I focus on qualifications and abilities? Furthermore, as a collective group of engaged citizens, we might ask: How can we mature to take on the challenges before us? How does our culture keep us immature? How can we begin to challenge our culture to change so that it challenges us to grow up?

Elections test the mettle not only of candidates, but also of citizens. Will you ask the tough questions to sort out the leaders from the politicians? Will you examine yourself and where you focus your attention? Will you be part of the solution of helping the culture to mature? As for me, I’m pledging right now to do my best to answer these questions in the affirmative throughout the remainder of this election season.

10 Responses to “Politician or Leader?”

  1. 1 Ramona Silipo September 27, 2012 at 8:55 am

    Brilliant, Margaret. Absolutely brilliant. I’m sending the link to everyone I know.

  2. 3 william bole September 27, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    Thank you, Margaret. It’s not too late, this year, for all of us to ask ourselves those questions.

  3. 5 Julett Broadnax September 27, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    Thanks for helping us put on our thinking cap, to clear away the negative rhetoric that abounds and get to the center of issues that are important for us immediately, as well as for the future good of all. Well said, Margaret.

  4. 7 Larry Peers September 27, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    What I like about your reflection, Margaret, is that it puts the responsibility upon each of us prior to, during, and after an election, to do the ongoing work of citizenship.
    Indeed that work is ” over our heads”-and requires us to build the climate for authentic dialogue, generosity of spirit, utilizing different perspectives, etc. It is a holy task as much as a civic one.

  5. 9 Bairbre Nic Aongusa September 29, 2012 at 5:50 pm

    Thank you Margaret for yet another thought-provoking newsletter. Your comments about “politician or leader?” are just as relevant here in Ireland, even though we aren’t in an election year.

    • 10 executivesoulblog October 1, 2012 at 12:00 pm

      How do you raise these questions in Ireland, Bairbre? I think we in the U.S. could learn some things from you. For example, I’ve noticed that the discussions on Irish talk radio are generally at a higher level and more intelligent than the discussion on talk radio in the U.S.

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