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Katherine Tyler Scott
Business leader

Katherine Tyler Scott

Katherine Tyler Scott is Managing Partner of Ki ThoughtBridge, a leadership consultancy, and is author, most recently, of Transforming Leadership: The Episcopal Church of the 21st Century. She is a board member of the International Leadership Association.

Let our neighbors starve?

Q:The overwhelming consensus among economists is that the economy needs another shot of short-term stimulus spending. But as the president and congressional leaders have discovered in trying to pass a new stimulus bill, voters want to start bringing the deficit down now. Is this one of those leadership moments when it is better to accommodate strong constituent beliefs rather than trying to convince them they are wrong?

The complexity of our current economic situation is such that it defies easy explanation and clear understanding. Even the best minds in the country haven't been able to articulate the problem or potential solutions well enough for the average citizen to understand. Perhaps we need to speak in metaphorical terms or narratives to convey the critical nature of our situation and what we must do to restore the country to fiscal health.

The public discourse is positional, and we act as though just saying that we should reduce the deficit is a fait accompli. The leadership response must be one that counters the tendency toward immediate gratification (which is in part the reason we are in this mess now) and that considers the underlying interests and concerns beneath the demands. Accommodation to the loudest voices and trying to convince them they are wrong would be irresponsible.

This is a time to give the American people an honest reading of reality about the morass in which we find ourselves and to educate them about the full implications of treating the deficit as if it were a broken thermostat that only requires a technician's touch.

Of course, we need to reduce the deficit in the long term. The growing debt hangs over our heads, threatening to crush any chance of increased prosperity for the next generation. But, is now the time to coerce cuts? We are in the throes of a world-wide depression, and we are dealing with a chronic condition and complexity that can be overwhelming. Millions of Americans are out of work or on the brink of being unemployed and they are unable to take care of their financial and family obligations. How are they to meet the basic needs of their families without the support of government?

Our charitable institutions and social service organizations lack adequate resources to deal with problems of this magnitude. Are we to let our neighbors and friends starve or become homeless because some want to solve a chronically complex problem as if it were only a matter of just saying "No" to spending? Demanding that people get jobs that don't exist or whose skills don't match the requirement is insensitive and cruel.

For decades, American businesses have outsourced jobs abroad where labor is cheaper and where they can be assured of higher profits. People with money and those who want to make money aren't going to invest in a company that isn't profitable. Investment is the life blood of a company and profitability is the name of the game.

Unions have been fighting to ensure that their members receive an equitable share of the profits, without seeing that the playing field and rules have been changing. Their staunch advocacy for employee security has frequently been a losing battle entrenched in a win/lose adversarial relationship. In some instances, they have failed to negotiate in the best interests of their constituents and the company has moved or gone out of business. Everyone loses when the larger common goal is lost. Is it better to have a reduced salary and benefits or no salary and benefits?

The point is that in order to reduce the deficit, we are going to have to be willing to reduce our wants and desires. I have yet to see the advocates calling for a deficit reduction eager to sacrifice anything. What are we willing to do without? What are we willing to give up?

We all have to change how we think about our lives and our relationships with people across the globe whom we will never meet but whose actions will affect us and the lives of our children and grandchildren. We must be willing to suffer a bit now in order to return to fiscal health in the future, but we must do it so that it does the least harm to the most vulnerable. If we aren't willing to do these things, then we aren't serious about reducing the deficit.

The leaders who can tell us these truths are the ones we can trust to get us through this adversity.

By Katherine Tyler Scott

 |  June 23, 2010; 10:31 AM ET
Category:  Political leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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