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Jim Kouzes

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.

Words that Resonate

From 1967 to 1969 I was in Turkey serving in the Peace Corps. Back then the Turks mostly liked Americans. Last year, only 9 percent of the Turkish people had a positive feeling about the United States. With the exception of Palestine, Turkey had the lowest favorability toward the U.S. of any nation in the Muslim world. This week in the Turkish press they're calling President Obama's visit "historic" and even "miraculous." Watching the footage of President Obama in a town hall forum in Turkey was, indeed, miraculous. And, what he demonstrated in that moment is what all leaders need to do to rebuild relationships. And rebuilding damaged relationships is exactly where we are in most of the rest of the world.

What you don't do when relationships are frigid, even hostile, is walk into a room with a big stick, talk tough, and draw a line in the sand. That won't ever improve the situation. Try it sometime in your marriage, your close friendships, or with your team at work and see what happens.

The first leadership challenge that President Obama faces in the world right now is not terrorism. It's the challenge of restoring trust in the United States. Trust is at the heart of successful relationships. It is the central issue within and outside organizations. Without trust you cannot lead. Until trust is earned, there is little that a leader can do to gain the commitment, not simply compliance, of any constituent.

Building and restoring trust means you first have to show that you trust others. You have to be open to influence. You have to make yourself vulnerable and admit your mistakes. You have to share information and resources. President Obama's actions this past week were first steps in this direction. He still has a lot of restoration work ahead of him, but these were small wins that we should celebrate. While the favorable ratings have a long way to go, there is a receptivity to Americans that hasn't been there for a long time.

And back to my Peace Corps experience for a moment. I joined the Peace Corps over 40 years ago because a young president of the United States, John F. Kennedy, Jr., in 1961 passionately spoke to me--well, he was speaking to everyone, but I felt he spoke to me--saying, "And so, my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country." He then went on to speak to people in other nations saying, "My fellow citizens of the world: Ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man." And then, "Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you."

I may be romanticizing my youth, but I joined the Peace Corps and then enlisted in the War on Poverty two years later, because something in me resonated with those words. Something within me stirred, and I wanted to make a difference. For the sake of our kids, I'd like to see a lot more of that kind of leadership in the world.

By Jim Kouzes

 |  April 8, 2009; 2:06 PM ET
Category:  Presidential leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: The Big "Ask" | Next: Three Tasks for CEO Obama


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First, I agree with Jim Kouzes' comments. However, I would like to point out to the above commenter the distinction between blind trust and authentic trust. I believe President Obama is establishing authentic trust. The world’s population is watching very intently for our congruency between what we say are our principles and how we behave. Consider that trust building as a first step to gathering allies, not just the countries that have traditionally been our allies but the world’s citizens. Let us not mistake trust for weakness or acquiescence. Rather, let us consider that trust building is a way to show our sincerity to the world that we are serious about building a cohesive global community. At least we can start and should anyone or any nation test our mettle, we have ample strength to defend our principles ~ but we must first live our principles.
Thank You ~

Posted by: joannl | April 11, 2009 10:59 AM
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Why is "restoring trust" more important than protecting the national security of our own country? Why must I have to do what other nations want me to do in order to gain their "trust" when those actions fail to protect me and makes me vulnerable to people that want to kill me? I'm simply not interested in following sharia law or capitulating to those who believe that we must all be Muslims or die. I'd rather "draw lines in the sand" that make it clear we are going to remain true to our principles, our ideals and our founding father's brilliance and not surrender our freedom to radicals. The President simply does not listen to the plain words of those who wish us harm -- he is not restoring American trust, he is surrendering to those who wish us harm.

Posted by: RBCrook | April 9, 2009 5:57 PM
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