Managing, Not Leading
A leader turns a difficult mess into a defining moment.
Ronald Reagan seized two in his first months as president, showing graciousness and humor when he was shot, and grit and tenacity when the air controllers took to protest and he summarily fired them. In both cases, Reagan showed his stuff. This served him well over the ensuing years of his presidency. I was fortunate to watch the results up-close and personal, when Reagan dealt with Gorbachev at their sundry summits -- especially the historic one in Reykjavik in October 1986.
Neither instance -- being shot, or being faced with air controllers seeking a raise -- would cause an ordinary observer to slap his knee and say, "Boy, there's an opportunity." Both seemed predicaments to live, or manage through. But somehow Reagan saw, or instinctively felt, golden opportunities in them.
Similarly, the AIG bonuses strike ordinary observers as a real problem. But the new President Obama could have used this instance -- just as he could have with the forest of earmarks in the omnibus spending bill -- to beam: "This is who I am" and "This is what I stand for."
Instead, he considered this a situation to live, or manage through. That's not top-notch leadership.
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