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Juana Bordas
Diversity leader

Juana Bordas

Juana Bordas is president of Mestiza Leadership International, a company focusing on leadership, diversity, and organizational change. Author of the 2007 book Salsa, Soul, and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age, she is a board member of the International Leadership Association.

Not a contest

Q: Today Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is riding high, judging from his press clippings, while a year ago the same pundits wondered if he'd be forced to step down. Many leaders face these wild swings of perception: one moment a genius, the next a dolt. Should leaders pay attention to their own popularity - or lack of it?

Without a doubt, leaders must be responsive. They must lend an ear and listen to people. They need to feel the pulse - know the urgency of the times. Most of all they need trusted advisers that can help them winnow through the ups and downs, the positives and negatives.

But after the fray a leader, notes leadership guru Steven Covey, must have a compass that is pointing "true north." North represents the leader's values, principles, and purpose. This "north" should be a leader's center point -- not popularity polls. In fact, tough decisions are often unpopular. Many times people, the media, and polls are reflecting short-term thinking, i.e. how something affects them now! Leaders must think about the future. What is the best course of action and what are the lasting ramifications?

Ambassador and congressman Andrew Young followed and was mentored by Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s. He recalls that King would bring people together and ask them to discuss an issue. King would not say anything, but would listen intently to everyone. After considering the counsel of others, he would spend time in reflection and prayer before making a decision.

King was tuning into that inner voice which reflects the true calling of the leader. Intuition, wrote Robert Greenleaf in Servant Leadership, is the most dependable part of the leader. Polls go up and down. People's perceptions change but a leader that is in tune with his intuitive sense has clarity and knows what action to take. Sometimes this means going against public opinion or risking one's popularity. Certainly King took many unpopular actions that went against the tides of the times.

During the 1982 mid-term elections when a recession was looming, Ronald Reagan stood firm against changes in his economic policies and urged people instead to "stay the course." This became his mantra. Reagan garnered public respect for his steadfastness. Similarly, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has stayed the course. He understands that economic turnarounds take time while public opinion and popularity change like weather in the Colorado Mountains.

Authentic leadership is not a popularity contest. Nor should leadership be media driven, constantly responding to moment-by-moment reporting and second guessing. The Iroquois Indian's great rule of leadership was the Seven Generation Rule. The wise leader considers the effects of his decisions on his children, his children's children, and so on, unto seven generations. Likewise today, the good leader points her compass true north, listens to the counsel of others, tunes into her intuition, looks beyond today to people's future well-being, and considers the impact on future generations.

Polls, the current media pundits, and popularity should not determine a leader decisions. By staying the course, Tim Geithner guided us out of troubled economic waters. Today the economy is moving, jobs are being created, banks are more fiscally responsible, and stock prices are rising. Certainly this is a testament to Geithner following his own inner direction, and not falling prey to critical voices or the rising and falling barometer of public opinion and popularity.

By Juana Bordas

 |  April 16, 2010; 11:23 AM ET
Category:  Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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The point of this was about authenticity--not popularity. Please, anyone, name one leader in the course of history with whom everyone agreed...

Posted by: letsfindaway | April 19, 2010 2:28 PM
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"After considering the counsel of others, he [Martin Luther King, Jr.] would spend time in reflection and prayer before making a decision." Amazing. That's the same process followed by President Richard Nixon - and, for doing so, he was lambasted and ridiculed! Does anyone besides me detect a double-standard here?

Posted by: DoTheRightThing | April 19, 2010 10:22 AM
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Juana, I don't know what your smoking, but extolling Tiny Tim's leadership ceredentials is like saying the devil will lead you to heaven. First of all having a tax evader as Secty of Treasury is laughable. Second, wasn't he tied into Goldman, now being investigated by the SEC? Third, what did he do with the $787B to reboot the economy. Find someone else to laud, please. Tiny Tim couldn't lead a blind person across the street.

Posted by: jemvbcarmagh06 | April 19, 2010 9:45 AM
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