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.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The First 100 Hours

Three catch-up bits as I've been without internet access for over a week now:

If only I had a nickel for every time I heard a commentator remind us of how "history is being made today." If only I had a matching nickel for every time I reminded the television that history is made in America every four years.


My grandmother always said you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Why on earth anybody (other than maybe a research scientist) would want to catch flies is beyond me, but Grandmother's adage rang out again this week . . . Obama moved his campaigning lips to form words about bipartisan efforts and how he vowed to "reach across the aisle". Now that he's been sworn in (second time was the charm), his lips form words warning Republicans to quit listening to Rush Limbaugh if they want to work with the Administration and the Democrats. And when Eric Cantor (Republican from Virginia) commented on the President's proposed stimulus package, Obama's lips formed these words: "I won. I will trump you on that." Yes, that Obama surely does know how to reach across the aisle and enkindle bipartisanship.


Though I'm sure they'll get it all ironed out, the fact that the White House provided the press with a picture of Obama on his first day of work in the Oval Office and a picture of the second take at the oath, advising the press corps that these photos (snapped by the White House photographer) were the only photos they would be allowed to use alarms me. On his very first day, President Obama takes total control of the media - and they are, for the most part, the ones that helped him land that job in the White House. Even though I know that everything we read, see, or hear from mainstream media must be filtered through our own good sense, I grow alarmed when there is evidence of government-control of the media. I rest easier, however, believing that the media will not be willingly dictated. They do, after all, have their own agendas.