Senior Leadership

In 2004, I was selected to attend the U.S. Army War College through their distance learning option. Right about the same time, I discovered that I had enough active duty time to retire from the Army about nine or ten years early, so a War College diploma became unnecessary from the professional and fiscal perspectives. So I withdrew from the course.

However, before I withdrew, I completed a little bit of the course material. The first sub course after I completed and passed the initial writing assignment was about senior leadership. While I’m a lousy student for the most part, I do occasionally pay attention and this time I paid attention. 

The biggest thing I came away with was that senior leadership is more about building consensus and negotiating solutions than it is about the more familiar vision of military officers leading troops around the motor pool or into battle. During my six years assigned to the Pentagon, I found this to be accurate. As a colonel, I observed that organizations needed me to be a consensus builder and needed far less of the stereotypical motivational leadership than the units to which I’d been assigned in the past. The War College course material said that this is as it should be. And I agree.

Fast forward to today. If, as I believe, senior leadership is about consensus building and assuming we consider that those running the legislative and executive branches of government are to be considered the senior leaders of our Nation, then I contend that Washington is suffering a severe leadership deficit.

Severe. 

This is not about Republican versus Democrat. This is not about left or right. If one examines the actions of the President and the leaders in both houses of Congress, it is clear to me that no one – not one individual is publicly engaging in any sort of leadership whatsoever nor is anyone in DC attempting to bill themselves as a true senior leader. 

I could list quote after quote from either side of the aisle in Congress and from the White House supporting the observation that the blame game is well underway. But since you’re all my friends, I know that you’re well aware of current events and can draw your own conclusions from news reports. I believe that we can all agree that little if any consensus building is happening publicly. If it’s happening behind closed doors in smoke-filled halls of Congress, no one knows about it and frankly I’d be surprised if it were. 

But back to the point: Our Nation needs leaders – real leaders who possess the necessary senior leadership skills and experience and the will to exercise them to the benefit of the Nation. We elect our President to LEAD the business of government not to observe the business of government. We elect our President to LEAD not to cajole and belittle legislators into specific behavior. We elect our Congressmen to represent our interests, negotiate among themselves and the Executive branch and come to consensus on viable solutions to fulfill our interests while maintaining the best interests of the entire Nation.

At this, they are all failing miserably. 

There is no leadership in Washington because there exists no attempt to build consensus among those in the government who disagree. 

I believe that the President, the single most visible face of the Nation and by definition the most senior leader in government has the DUTY to lead and build consensus in the National interest in spite of the political climate. I believe the President should be leading the Nation in the context of the United States as his top priority. The President isn’t the President of the Democratic Party, but the President of the United States. 

I observe none of this and therefore conclude that in the context of senior leadership, the White House is leaderless.

As for Congress, I recognize and embrace that it is by nature a more partisan organization. I expect there to be discourse, disagreement and politics played among its members. But in the end, I expect the senior leaders in Congress to lead their respective parties while building consensus in the context of the Nations best interests. 

Sadly, I observe none of that either. Therefore, I also conclude that in the context of senior leadership, Congress is leaderless. 

Its been said by hundreds of other journalists, commentators and other observers that our government is the most divided, most partisan and least productive body in generations. I agree. 

I do not believe, however, that this is a problem resulting from a clash of ideas that has no resolution. I do not believe that the Legislative and Executive branches of government are hopelessly deadlocked because there’s a great ideological gulf between them. I believe that it’s the lack of leadership skills and experience that makes resolution unlikely. I believe that no one has the will to find consensus and in fact, I believe that the senior leaders of our Nation think that consensus is a dirty word.

Our senior leaders aren’t leading. It’s that simple.


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