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Jim Kouzes
Scholar

Jim Kouzes

Jim Kouzes is the Dean’s Executive Professor of Leadership, Leavey School of Business, Santa Clara University, and the coauthor with Barry Posner of the internationally award-winning and best-selling book, The Leadership Challenge.

It Didn't Have to End This Way

It looks as if George W. Bush is headed for the presidential scrap bin. In every poll I've read, the majority of Americans think he'll go down in history as a below-average president and believe his presidency has been a failure. About a third consider him to be the worst U. S. president since World War II.

But it didn't have to turn out this way. George W. Bush brought to the Office of the President some admirable qualities that would well serve any leader. Sadly, his greatest strengths betrayed him. They became his glaring weaknesses.

Bush has at least two attributes that, in another time and with different policies, could have altered his legacy. The first is his conviction. One of the qualities that all leaders must demonstrate is clarity of values, and George Bush has been quite clear about the beliefs that guide his decisions and actions. He has also had the personal courage to stand for those beliefs. He is steadfast in his passion for freedom and democracy, for example. He has made it the cornerstone of his presidency.

However, unswerving devotion to any principle can, at the extreme, turn to close-mindedness. Courage of convictions can turn into an unwillingness to remain open to the opinions of others, a rejection of facts that don't fit your case, a blindness to alternative means of staying true to one's principles, an insular organization that invites in only those who think like you do, and foolish adherence to failed policies. Bush's convictions didn't derail him. His rigidity did.

A second strength President Bush exhibits is his optimism. He is upbeat, positive, and confident. We need leaders like this, particularly in tough times. Pessimists make bad leaders. Few of us will follow someone who is a downer, always seeing a dark cloud and predicting stormy weather. Even in the midst of the worst economic news in the last forty years, George Bush has remained sunny and quite buoyant.

While generally an admirable quality, too much optimism can actually damage credibility. It can make a leader seem out of touch with reality. Being overly upbeat can also blind a leader to the realities and the risks, making victory seem too quick and easy. And, when things don't work out quite as predicted, people get disillusioned and less willing to put their faith in that leader.

Regardless of what the history books may write about George H. W. Bush, his present circumstances offer an important lesson for all leaders: your supreme strengths can become unwelcome weaknesses. Over reliance on your trusted assets can turn them into costly liabilities.

By Jim Kouzes

 |  January 6, 2009; 11:12 AM ET
Category:  Presidential leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Unanswered Questions | Next: The Treachery of Hubris

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You can have convictions, just let Democrats convince you to let go of them.. You can be optimistic, but just find time to whine and moan about the malaise we are in, like Jimmy Carter did. You can be an American, just not too American. Be a little bit Sharian Iranian. You can be a Christian, just try to hide it because we don't like to talk about those things. You can give a few tax breaks, just don't try to make it so business gets too optimistic and starts expanding too much; when the GDP rises over 3, the socialist countries get jealous.

Posted by: chatard | January 13, 2009 11:00 AM
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Wow. All this praise for George Bush's courageous pro-democracy convictions. You would hardly think Mr. Kouzes was talking about a man who repeatedly violated the rights of Habeas Corpus, Due Process, Fair Trial; the Separation of Powers doctrine; his own oath of office; not to mention the right of Americans to elect their leaders via a legitimate political process.

Saying that George Bush loves democracy (for no better reason, apparently, then because he has repeatedly said so) means nothing when you look at how consistently he has treated our democracy with such utter contempt. It is like saying that a man who beats his wife loves her too much.

Posted by: Bartron | January 7, 2009 3:14 AM
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Everyone is being too politically correct in evaluating President George W. Bush. The man is an out and out phony.

Posted by: pfk98 | January 7, 2009 2:06 AM
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In someone else it might have been called conviction, but not in Bush. In him it was thin skin and the lifelong good luck he required to stay protected from tests, hurts, or just contrary evidence. He occupied a bubble, and inside that bubble he could remain untouched, unmoved, and unchanged. Conviction? No. Parochialism, perhaps.

Conviction is earned. Bush never earned it. Parochialism is what happens when you assume conviction as an entitlement.

Posted by: Attucks | January 6, 2009 7:25 PM
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George Bush has remained sunny and quite buoyant. Buoyant? I think you meant delusional.

Posted by: obrier2 | January 6, 2009 2:26 PM
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I agree with your analysis of Bush. However I think Bush had one major flaw that stands out above all others. Leaders have to have a realistic goal to achieve. Leaders strive to achieve a objective goal.

Bust had no goal to achieve. Only a conservative value system that led nowhere.

Posted by: dfdougherty | January 6, 2009 2:14 PM
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