Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Good, Bad, and Just Plain Ugly Leadership

In the world of journalism, this is an old story, but in the real world (or what used to be the real world), it's a story that never grows old. A story that grows not right but ripe with time . . .

Geitner, President Obama's choice to head the Department of the Treasury, is a known tax evader. Note the adverb in that sentence: he is a known tax evader, not a convicted tax evader. There's a difference. A big, huge difference.

Geitner chose not to pay some taxes he was legally required to pay - taxes any of us would be legally required to pay. On the eve of his confirmation, Geitner paid those taxes - well, some of those taxes - and when the IRS said "Don't worry about the interest and penalty, Mr. Soon-To-Be-Boss, Geitner smiled and left, maybe adding a well-deserved "Thank you" on his way out.

My daddy owned his own business - took the farm land he inherited from his daddy and built a golf course. (During construction, I picked up enough rocks to replicate the Great Wall of China, but that's not really pertinent to this story.) He cleaned bathrooms in the clubhouse. pulled golf carts around, put returned carts on charge, delivered fresh golf carts to those stranded on the course by a golf cart that quit. He cooked hot dogs, served hot dogs, cleaned up after those who ate the hot dogs. He swept the front porch, emptied trashcans, regularly rode around the course picking up trash. He was the first one there to open the clubhouse and the last one to leave and lock-up at night. My daddy worked harder, put in longer hours, and brought home less money (at least initially) than any of his employees. Why? Because he knew that if he showed up late, employees would show up late. He knew that if he regularly left early, the employees would start to leave early. He knew that if he took packages of hot dogs home for supper without paying for them, his employees might soon be feasting their families on free hot dogs. Frankly, it made my brother, my sister, and me mad. We thought the owner (and consequently, the owner's family) should receive special consideration. Though we could see the need for rules, we didn't see why they had to apply to us - after all, Daddy was the owner. The boss. At the top.

But it made perfect sense to my daddy because he was a man of integrity, a fine man who knew the value of leading by example. If Daddy didn't respect the business enough to live by the rules he'd set, why should they. Daddy knew - he just knew - that bending the rules for his own personal gain would translate as implied consent to employees for them to do the same. It's as simple as that.

Daddy's daddy was a banker. I still remember going to the bank to deposit my 50-cent allowance, and I still have the passbook showing the deposit of 50-cents plus the matching 50-cents taken from Granddaddy's pocket. He didn't pull from the cash drawer right there within reach, he pulled those two quarters from his own pocket.

Daddy's father-in-law was the Sheriff, and before he was Sheriff, he was a Revenue Agent. Because his job was to find and destroy illegal stills, he never drank or allowed alcohol in his house.

Do you see the common thread here? These men, while they had their own quirks and could get angry or sad or goofy just like any other human being, were men who took leadership seriously. They considered it an honor to be a leader, and as a result, they considered it their duty to lead by example, holding themselves to the same standards they held everybody else to.

Maybe I'm showing my old-fashioned streak, maybe I live in la-la land, but I tell you one thing with absolutely certainty: I can still tell the difference between a good leader and a sorry one. Though you don't often hear words like honesty, loyalty, integrity, duty so much any more, it doesn't mean we shouldn't demand such character traits from our leaders.


Shane Vander Hart said...

You are right leadership is about modeling.

We are not seeing very good leadership from Washington.

Hey I found you on the Read My Lipstick Network (of which I'm now a member). I've subscribed to your blog and would just like to invite you to check my blog out -

JoeTheMom said...

I for one am not suprised by Geitner's appointment. Obama is the "do as i say, not as i do" type of leader, so it makes sense his administration picks we reflect this... unfortunately I think much of America turned a blind eye to his record because of all the glitz and glamour.
Hopefully the silver lining to this administration will be a renewed demand for ethical leadership. Judging by his first month in office, we are in for a bumpy ride.