Friday, July 29, 2011

Courage and humility dear hope is that political leaders will have the courage and the humility as well to overcome political sensitivity and concerns and doctrines, which are perfectly legitimate, for the sake of the entire country and for the sake of the global economy.   
IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde in a PBS News Hour interview,  on the U.S. debt ceiling crisis.
Courage and humility.  Without these qualities, leaders simply can't be counted on.  Ms. Lagarde later says,
Political courage is required. And I'm not - I'm not suggesting that it is lacking, but it has to be demonstrated in moments of crisis. I was last week in Brussels, and there was a moment of courage and solidarity amongst the European leaders, members of the eurozone area. It comes in times in crisis. And when it does, it's quite extraordinary.
Well, we are all dearly hoping to see this real soon now from our US political leaders. 

The combination of these two qualities is what makes leaders who can be counted on.  To be humble, to acknowledge mistakes, to genuinely listen, to take accountability - all of these things require courage and all are necessary to gain confidence, followership and support in difficult times.  A great leader once said, "the role of a leader is to define reality and to give hope."  In difficult times, the "defining reality" part often requires accepting responsibility, acknowledging mistakes and sometimes being clear about uncertainty and personal shortcomings.  It also means asking for help and being open and humble in accepting it.  What some leaders don't understand is that showing this kind of courage and humility in defining reality provides a solid foundation for hope and when you give people that kind of hope, amazing things can happen.  

Ms. Lagarde's gentle but firm admonishment to the US political leadership really applies to all of us.  We have all enjoyed the "exorbitant privilege" that she (quoting Giscard d'Estaing) ascribes to our currency.  That "privilege" was earned by generations of Americans who built homes, families, careers, businesses and institutions showing these key qualities of leadership.  We need to get back to that.  Now.  Not just in politics, not just in government, but all of us, every day.

Those of you who are parents, teachers or leaders, think about the example that you are setting.  Think about what behaviors you are rewarding and who you are choosing to promote.  Will your children/students/proteges respond with courage and humility or CYA, obfuscation, finger-pointing or "positioning" when real problems arise?  We can only reverse this slide into weak, self-centered, myopic leadership by calling it out when we see it and stopping the cycle of rewarding it.

Thank you, Ms. Lagarde for calling us out!

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