Leadership & Lame Escargot: Yes, Virginia. It DOES Matter

“Facts are stubborn things” – John Adams

Scott Walker? Paul Ryan? Jeb Bush? Didya catch Megyn Kelly’s March 31 interview with the Big Guy from New Jersey? When asked, Chris Christie tossed out these names as potential “good candidates” for a 2016 White House run. But what makes these leaders “good”? Hate to rain on Jimmy Carville’s parade here, but in a word: character. Norman Schwarzkopf put it this way:

“Leadership is a combination of strategy and character. If you must be without one, be without the strategy.”

Conserv, if your sole focus and filter for drafting or supporting a candidate or office holder at any level – local, state, or federal – is practically perfect in every way, hire Mary Poppins. If you’re looking for sinless and spotless, the last one to pull that off walked on water and rose on the third day. But if you’re looking for effective leadership that inspires confidence and respect, good character is not optional.

Repeat: If you’re looking for effective leadership that inspires confidence and respect, good character is not optional. Yes, Virginia, character matters. Without it, all we have is an empty suit. Like the guy from Chicago.

Kenneth Branagh rolls out the concept in his St. Crispin’s (sometimes spelled “Crispian”) Day speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V. Anyone who’s actually read or watched the play or used it as something other than a punchline should understand that the speech is about quality, not quantity. Key line: But if it be a sin to covet honour/I am the most offending soul alive. At its core, the speech is about honor. Not to beat a dead horse, but we sometimes call that “character.”

While we’re on the topic, that “private life/no one else’s business” dog won’t hunt. Why? Because leadership:

  • Is held to a higher standard.
  • Is expected to maintain a certain level of decorum at all times.
  • Represents those led.
  • Is the face of the group or organization to the public.
  • Is never “off the clock.”

Because everything leadership says and does reflects on the organization and each member, for good or for ill. That makes leader conduct everyone’s business. Because once a leader forfeits the moral authority necessary to lead, s/he’s lost everything.

Not talkin’ about honest mistakes. Oopses. Overloading the dishwasher or wearing white after Labor Day. But willful, serious, substantive and repeated misconduct. Criminal behavior. “In your face” immorality. Fiscal malfeasance. Moral turpitude. Ongoing, unrepentant (key word) conduct unbecoming on the part of leadership that gets a “shut up, none of your business” response when exposed.

Earth to led people. Don’t think you’re off the hook just because you’re rank and file. Because you’re responsible for what you know. Because if you choose to ignore or excuse known bad behavior of a serious nature, you are complicit with said bad behavior – and just as guilty as the leader who’s doing it. Why? Short answer: because you’re a gutless wuss. Because facts are stubborn things. Because:

  • You know better and choose to take the path of least resistance.
  • Rather than taking a stand for what’s right, you choose to play possum.
  • Go along to get along may be easy, but it’s the gold standard in Cowardice 101.
  • Dumping core values and convictions for the sake of “winning” or political expedience is like “winning” a sack full of haggis.

The art of leadership is saying no, not yes. It is very easy to say yes.” – Tony Blair

Those who care enough to confront and have the courage to do so are few and far between.* But part of the responsibility of a principled rank and file member is to speak truth and turn on the light. If leadership has any character, they’ll about-face and turn over a new leaf when confronted. Or resign for the good of the group. If they refuse, what does that tell you? (Tip: The best way to avoid getting burned? Don’t play with matches. And don’t be surprised when a ticking time bomb blows up in your face. It’s what time bombs do. Duh.)

“If we don’t stand for something, we shall fall for anything.” – Peter Marshall

Any Different?
When a demonstrable, ongoing lack of character in leadership goes unchallenged or meets an “Oh, well, nobody’s perfect” shoulder shrug, how are Conservs any different from the opposition? If Conservs are morally bankrupt and no one cares, how are we any different from your average DemoLib? If we’re not the Party of  Principle, what are we? If Conservs can’t or won’t draw the line at unrepentant (there’s that word again), gross immorality or serious character flaws – the type that’d get any military officer court-martialed – where do we draw it?

No wonder we wind up with empty suits.

Public domain

While we’re on the topic again, spare me the rhetorical caterwauling that pointing out serious character defects in leadership is somehow holier than thou. Oh, please. Besides being idiotic, that’s like saying, “Let’s all swallow the arsenic because we’re too gutless to call it poison.” Any time you hear that nonsense, clue:

• Most likely, the source has his/her own issues and you just hit a nerve.
• It’s a classic misdirect, a thinly veiled attempt to avoid the issue at hand.
• The person throwing it out there is playing holier than thou big time – in a slightly different key. Just smile sweetly and chirp, “Facts are stubborn things. What’re you going to do with ’em?”

Nice try, folks
While we’re on the subject, Matthew 6:14 and 7:3 aren’t stand-alones. And John 8 doesn’t end at verse 7. (Nice try.) There’s a difference between thinking biblically and thinking Bible-versely. And while a political party isn’t a church, neither is it a bordello. (BTW: If character only counts on Sunday morning, what good is it?)

Aiming High
Man of conviction. Woman of her word. Honesty. Integrity. Honor. Valor. Virtue. Commitment. These character qualities resonate for a reason. They’re the core of good leadership. True, you may have something without ’em, but it’s not a leader that inspires confidence or respect. (See empty suit, above.)

Public domain

BTW #2: Whatever happened to aiming high? When the bar is set so low for candidates or electeds that a gimpy snail can hop over it blind, all we get are gimpy snails. And that’s mighty lame escargot.

Now then, if it’s one thing most Americans get, it’s clemency – contingent upon genuine remorse and a halt to wrong-doing. They get King David’s response to Nathan’s rebuke. Likewise, if it’s one thing most Americans despise, it’s Nixonian “I am not a crook-isms” when the evidence clearly indicates otherwise. Kinda like Babalu Barry and “If you like your plan, you can…” Well, you know.

John Adams got it right: “Facts are stubborn things.” You can ignore ’em, deny ’em, twist ’em, shoot at ’em, stick ’em with pins and needles. But you can’t un-fact facts any more than you can effect good leadership without good character.

Simple Fix
Happily, there’s a simple fix to gross bad behavior in leadership – or anywhere else: Stop. Quit making excuses. Quit tap dancing. Quit with the self-serving rationalizations. Just S-T-O-P. Repent. And don’t go back.

Remember, John 8 doesn’t begin or end at verse seven. If you stop there, you miss the whole point. Because without applying the message of verse 11b, all you’ve got is some mighty lame escargot. And who wants to follow that?



* Aka: Leaders.