Stop romanticizing leaders
Q: Even before we know the outcome of the health care vote in the House, how would you rate President Obama's leadership on the issue?
There are two points worth making related to President Obama's effectiveness as a leader in the move toward health-care reform.
First, if we can agree that President Obama's mandate as the leader of our nation is to enable Congress (as representatives of 'We the People') to move towards a common vision of health-care reform, then I am personally disappointed with the leadership that has been exhibited. However, my disappointment goes well beyond President Obama and spans across both sides of the aisle.
On the one hand, Obama has failed to inspire the hearts and align the minds of Congress--and that is a leadership failure--but the leadership responsibility in this case does not solely rest with Obama. Members from both parties have failed to put the nation's interests above their own political needs or aspirations, and any failure of leadership in this case also rests with each and every member of Congress.
Second, I want to point out a deeper issue at play here. We often assume that individual leaders have high levels of control and influence, and as a result, we develop a romantic conception of leadership as the single most important factor explaining success or failure. As a result, leaders are praised when things go well and blamed when things go poorly. In fact, research by James Meindl and colleagues shows that the responsibility for success and failure attributed to leaders goes far beyond the control and influence any single individual could ever wield.
We should not look for simple answers to complex questions. Yes, leadership is one possible explanation for however you see the move toward health-care reform (as a success or failure). But do not let our fascination with leadership and our romanticized beliefs about the role of leadership blind you to other possible explanations.
If you replaced President Obama with any person of your choice, do you really think the process would have unfolded any differently? And if so, why?
Posted by: herty3k1 | March 18, 2010 4:01 PM
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