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Exploring Leadership in the News with Steven Pearlstein and Raju Narisetti

Leadership requires balance and fairness

Question: Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin continues to demand an end to collective bargaining rights for state employees even after winning their agreement on the benefit reductions he sought. These are the same state employees he must rely on to operate state government and implement his policies. How should he strike the balance between the urgent need to restore the state's fiscal health and his longer-term challenge of leading a large governmental enterprise?

I don't know that Wisconsin's Governor can "strike a balance" since the conditions underneath the situation in Wisconsin are so out of balance.

Historically, and in Wisconsin, individuals and the union movement have shown a willingness to sacrifice for the sake of democracy. I grew up during World War II where even children had savings bonds to support soldiers, and where I was charged with adding the orange coloring that disguised the lard as butter on our toast. Everyone had a role in balancing the sacrifice our fathers and sons were making.

But Roosevelt was able to count on citizens who knew the requested sacrifices were about fairly balancing sacrifices at home for freedoms and democracy abroad.

This particular situation, especially in Wisconsin, does not reflect the balance and fairness leadership requires. While there is much debate about the cause and amount of the deficit Walker claims (including a series of corporate tax breaks), what the governor is doing goes beyond budget numbers to what Paul Krugman of the New York Times and Ezra Klein of The Washington Post say is really about power and politics. For example, not all unions are being asked to make these sacrifices--police and firefighters who lean Republican are exempt--and Klein specifically calls it a political ploy to "defund" the Democratic Party. In addition, the permanent loss of one's capacity to bargain transcends the budget issues and feels like partisan opportunism, not leadership.

As polls confirmed this week, the majority of Americans are opposed to unions losing these essential rights. So many of us, my family included, were lifted out of poverty because of unionization. We know that depending on corporate interests had not and would not have succeeded--I would have lived my childhood out in the public housing project in Atlanta known as Techwood.

Leadership, above all, depends on fairness and trust. Sacrifice, and doing the hardest jobs in our communities, is done willingly and well when the conditions are for a higher democratic good and based on a fairness across the board.

That's why Justice is represented symbolically as a woman holding balanced scales--blindfolded to show impartiality and with a sword to show the power.

In this case, with eyes wide open and a sword, the scales are tipped--and Walker's ability to lead and find support for needed sacrifices will be as well.

By Marie Wilson

 |  March 2, 2011; 5:35 PM ET
Category:  Economic crisis , Government leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: You get what you pay for--even with state employees | Next: Deal or no deal?

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