“It is said that power corrupts, but actually it’s more true that power attracts the corruptible.” David Brin
I probably don’t have to tell you that politicians serve as some of the poorest examples of leadership but that doesn’t stop most of them from touting their leadership accomplishments. Of course, there are some politicians that are certainly leaders, and I don’t want to blanket an entire group into this discussion but in general, we need to understand that true leadership is often counterproductive to the behaviors of most politicians.
I certainly don’t have to give you the myriad of examples of the lies that come out of the mouths of some politicians but if you care about leadership, understand that this is the most important trait of a leader. Even one lie can ruin your credibility to those around you and unfortunately for many in the political game, they ran over that limit their first day in office. We’ve heard more about vaccines in recent years than I care to ever hear again but some politicians have made quite the scene about “vaccine hesitancy” and have placed that blame on just about everyone but themselves but since science seems to be the rage lately, it’s interesting what the science says about vaccine hesitancy.
It’s certainly not a new phenomenon. Approximately 50% of Americans don’t get the flu vaccine each year and a quick search over at PubMed will get you a ton of “science based” studies on why it has existed for many years and the overall contributor is trust in the political figure heads discussing the vaccine. A 2021 study in the International Journal of Public Health, said that “there is some consensus that confidence and trust play a critical role in reducing vaccine hesitancy.”
To be successful, leaders must guard the truth with everything they have and honesty must always come first because if it doesn’t, not many will listen to you.
Refuse To Learn From Mistakes
This made the “top ten” list of what a cowardly leader is in my book, “The Courageous Police Leader,” and there may not be a better example of this than politicians. Part of the issue is when a decision is made and it clearly isn’t working, a weak leader believes that changing course would seem weak or hurt them politically when in fact the opposite is true. All you have to do is look north of the border to see this in action. There are countless government programs that have been abject failures, but they exist today. Many politicians are even doubling down on “defund the police,” even though only an insane person would believe that the efforts helped anyone. Some of the strongest and best leaders out there are also individuals that learn from their mistakes and even apologize when they make them but those leaders are like unicorns in politics.
If politicians have any leadership qualities at all, they are often focused on just their voting base and they often ignore “the other side.” That behavior in itself disqualifies them as true leaders. A few years ago I was having lunch with Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke (ret.), known as “America’s Sheriff.” Most only know Sheriff Clarke from his television appearances, which means they don’t know anything about him. David is intense, very smart and cares deeply about the law enforcement profession.
After he retired, he spent some time in Washington D.C. and during our conversation, I started railing on former President Obama’s treatment of law enforcement and how his disdain for the profession was a horrible look for a president. Sheriff Clarke stopped me abruptly. “Obama doesn’t hate cops,” he told me. Clarke went on in detail about how President Obama had been around law enforcement most of his adult life in politics. He knew their professionalism and he knew that what he said was nonsense. David said something that made a lot of sense and another example of why it is almost impossible for a politician to actually lead. Clarke said that President Obama had a small segment of his voting base that hated cops and that his comments were aimed at making them happy rather than a strict ideological view that he actually believed in. Considering those opposing the viewpoint would likely never vote for him anyway, President Obama knew that when it came to politics, his negative comments on law enforcement would only help him.
No Core Beliefs
Many politicians find out rather quickly that to make a career out of politics, they have to drop what they actually believe in at the door. Behind the scenes this is called “decision by polls” and we see it every day. COVID-19 deaths are higher this week than they were the same week last year but many politicians are suddenly coming off their “mandates.” Is this based on their “science” or the polls? Politicians that once railed about defunding the police are suddenly placing more money in law enforcement agencies. What changed? Twenty years ago, entire political party platforms were completely the opposite as they are today. Did a bunch of elderly politicians suddenly have a change of heart about a bunch of issues?
You get the point. True leadership is about a core belief system of what is right and wrong and nothing, even popularity, can change that.
Don’t Fix Problems
When you think of what a politician should be doing, you would think that their job would be to actually fix problems. From my perspective I see a lot of local politicians that certainly try their best in this area but when it comes to the career politicians in Washington D,C., fixing problems isn’t exactly a great career move. They love to talk about problems and solving them would get in the way of that.
Think about all of the issues in America and how long politicians have been promising to fix them? Sure, they blame gridlock and bureaucracy, but you know that’s a lie. There have been several occasions in my life alone where one political party ran D.C. The truth is, weak leaders talk about problems while great leaders actually fix them.
All About Optics
One of the worst ideas we ever had was to put a television in Congress. Hearings are called for political gain rather than to actually do some good. Politicians grandstand for hours to bolster their popularity and just about everything a politician does seems to be to make them look better in the court of public opinion. Leaders certainly understand the importance of transparency and honesty but that is not what you typically see from career politicians. You see behaviors designed to help them and their popularity rather than helping the people. Some of the most courageous leaders on the planet are men and women you have never heard of. They aren’t blowing up on social media and they certainly don’t care about TikToc.
Who Are You?
It’s rather easy to pick on politicians because they haven’t exactly helped themselves out through the years. It’s much more difficult to look ourselves in the mirror and evaluate who we are when it comes to leadership. Do we go with the flow and simply aim at popularity or do we set out to make everyone and everything around us better. When politicians and often our bosses tell us to do something that is ethically and morally wrong, do we do it to “save out job” or do we sacrifice our comfort and stability to do what is right? When we screw up do we admit it and hold ourselves accountable to get better or do we try to hide it?
I’ve been talking about Courageous Leadership for a number of years and frankly it can be very uncomfortable because so many in our profession think we have it all figured out. We’ve made that rank we wanted or we have that position we dreamed of and real leadership can sometimes get in the way of that. We all have a choice which direction to go but understand this, whatever you are holding on to that is creating a failure to lead, is only temporary. One day, you won’t be in this profession. One day, you’ll see cops from your old agency and they won’t even know who you are.
I choose to lead because that is a legacy that will never be forgotten by those you impacted.
It’s your choice…