Wikipedia defines Leadership as: When people experience and express mood, they send signals to others. Leaders signal their goals, intentions, and attitudes through their expressions of moods. For example, expressions of positive moods by leaders signal that leaders deem progress toward goals to be good.
Leadership expert Warren Bennis once stated, “leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” Great leaders possess dazzling social intelligence, a zest for change, and above all, a vision that allows them to set their sights on the things that truly merit attention.
The President is the clear leader of our democracy. He or she is in a position to set goals for the nation, to define policies to achieve these goals, to recommend legislation to the Congress, set priorities for enforcement of laws, and to veto legislation contrary to the nation’s goals. To be effective at this he or she must have the support and confidence of a majority of the electorate. The person who holds this office has, by far, the greatest potential to influence our democracy. This is one individual that enjoys the greatest visibility and the ability to communicate to the broad electorate. But to be effective he or she must enjoy the support of the broad electorate. So what qualities are likely to make this individual successful in strengthening our democracy?
Critical is the ability to connect to people. This means charisma. There is no particular need to be intellectually brilliant; the President can and should surround him or herself with experts. In fact being too intellectual can be a potential problem because it might constrain openness to new ideas. To inspire people means to be somewhat of a dreamer, an optimist, a focus on the future as opposed to the past. Focus on the future means understanding the challenges facing the common man and being able to articulate, in layman terms, a solution and path to improving on these challenges. A noteworthy example is JFK – “a man on the moon in a decade” and “ask not what the country can do for you but what you can do for the country”. A true leader knows the system, i.e. is politically savvy. However, by definition a leader leads, so while he or she may have a general political party preference, he or she is an independent thinker. Finally a true leader is altruistic, places the Nation ahead of self, and acts in this respect with total self confidence.
Finding a person with the outlined qualities may not be possible, particularly given the current state of our national politics. We clearly have not experienced such a President in a long while. We can, however, speculate on a path to this as an end goal. A critical first step is to encourage political activism, independent critical thinking and a willingness to support independent minded candidates. A real, but doable, challenge.