The qualification of integrity
Q: In appointing a new Supreme Court Justice to replace John Paul Stevens, President Obama was seeking someone who could provide intellectual and personal leadership of the liberal block. His gamble in nominating Elena Kagan is bringing in someone from outside the 'priesthood' of appeals-court judges. What are the advantages and disadvantages of selecting a leader with non-traditional qualifications?
Diversity is a wonderful element when it comes to empowering groups; different perspectives can offer fresh ideas for solving problems that plague an organization or country. Diversity of qualifications and perspectives alone, however, does not ensure success. For leaders with non-traditional qualifications, and for those with more recognized qualifications than they could ever need, integrity is still essential for leadership to have any true meaning.
Numerous leaders have brought in new ideas, but failed in their inability to stay true to a core set of values or principles. Richard Nixon grew up in a Quaker household, and gave up the opportunity to go to an Ivy League School for college instead opting to attend Whittier College. When Nixon ascended to the role of President, his ambition led to many wild ideas and wide-scale changes, from attempting to end partisan politics during his inauguration, signing the EPA into effect, and visiting China. Yet despite these bold new initiatives, his legacy was forever marred by the Watergate scandal.
In comparison, many decisions made by President Jimmy Carter were by no means popular and were highly non-traditional, even during a time of great distress and change. From questionable decisions during major events such as the Iran Hostage Crisis to small details like installing solar panels on the White House, President Carter struggled to stay true to his values despite historically low popularity. While his presidency was considered a failure, he kept true to who he was and eventually modeled the standards by which a post-presidency is judged through his pursuit of peace and humanitarianism.
While both men demonstrated bold initiative and foresight, what separated them were not qualifications, but their integrity. Both came from unique beginnings, both had radical ideas, but Carter was able to sustain his legacy and now symbolizes something far more powerful. For Elena Kagan, her legacy of leadership will not rest on her previous qualifications, but her actions and convictions during her term as Supreme Court Justice. Much of great leadership is the power to represent ideas and values. For that idea and symbolism to mean anything, the leader must demonstrate the qualification of integrity, or else all that a leader builds stands on is a foundation of dust. --Jimmy Duong
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