Posts Tagged ‘US Congress’

President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, Attorney General Eric Holder and a few other top administration officials gave a nod to quintessential leadership this week by giving back a portion 0f their salaries as U.S. federal government worker furloughs begin to take effect from the sequestration that began March 1, 2013.

U.S. President Barack ObamaPresident Obama will write a check for 5% of his salary to the U.S. Treasury each month,Secretary of State John Kerry while Secretary Kerry will donate his 5% to a charity that helps U.S. State Department employees. Attorney General Holder will write a check to the US Treasury for 14 days worth of his annual salary. Details of how the other members of the president’s Cabinet who are forfeiting a portion of their salaries have not been finalized.

While the actual amounts on money these three people in U.S. leadership positions is small, the symbolism of their gestures – and the quintessential leadership statement they make, is large. And the example they’ve set for the rest of those in leadership positions in the U.S. government is powerful.

To date, I have not read of anyone in the U.S. Congress following President Obama’s, Secretary John Kerry’s, Attorney General Holder’s, and the other Cabinet members’ examples by giving back a portion of his or her salary.

I have always found it interesting that time and again the United States Congress shows how devoid it is of quintessential leadership. While the governing body itself is a chaotic and ineffective mess, they routinely give themselves pay raises – while the people they supposedly represent continue to lose jobs, homes, and sometimes families because of the global economic crisis, which the U.S. Congress had no small part in contributing to because of all the financial lobbying money backing many of its members – and make sure they have the best of health care, consistent income, and guaranteed retirement. 

I doubt this was what the Founding Fathers envisioned when they spelled out the three branches of U.S. government in Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution. What was supposed to have been a legislative body made up of the people, by the people, and for the people has become a cloister of the most wealthy and connected, by the most wealthy and connected, for the most wealthy and connected.

As with every human political system, the Grand Experiment was doomed to descend to its present state because of ever-present human nature, greed, and selfishness, and the inability of human beings to always strive to successfully go through the narrow gate of quintessential leadership consistently and continually.

As quintessential leaders, we should always be mindful that we are human beings too and we must always be checking our own positions as leaders, making sure that our intents, our attitudes, our motives, our actions, and our words are meeting the higher standard of quintessential leadership.

Have we done our check today?

There have been a lot of examples of unquintessential leadership in this week’s news, and I will highlight the ones that have caught my attention – some you may be aware of and others you may not be – and give a brief summary of each of them with links so you can review the stories yourselves and glean the lessons from each of them that we, as quintessential leaders, must always be diligent to look for and learn from.

Lance ArmstrongThe first story is the news, which, frankly, is no surprise to me, that Lance Armstrong has refused to meet with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and testify under oath about his use of illegal substances during his career as a professional cyclist. In light of this development – which was a necessary step in his path to be able compete athletically in any sport and any hopes of redemption from his fall from grace – it seems to bear out that all that he said in his interview with Oprah Winfrey last month was nothing more than lies accompanied by crocodile tears. Purely unquintessential leadership on every level with this man.

Another unquintessential leadership story that caught my Alex (A-Rod) Rodriguez - New York Yankeesinterest this week was about Alex Rodriguez, third baseman for my favorite baseball team, the New York Yankees. Joe Posnanski does a very good job of showing the unquintessential leadership traits that have led to his demise, not only as a baseball player, but as a role model for young kids playing the game of baseball. Mr. Posnanski lists several things that contributed to where A-Rod finds himself now, but from a quintessential leader point of view, three character traits – pride, cheating, and dishonesty – are at the core of what makes Alex Rodriguez an unquintessential leader.

Another unquintessential leadership news story from this week was the revelation that the FBI – anyone who knows the real history of the FBI from its inception and anything at all about the tactics of its first director, J. Edgar Hoover, should really not be surprised by this latest story – has a lot of employees using government-issued equipment to engage in sexting. Not only is this behavior immoral, but it’s also illegal under federal law, which the FBI is the enforcing agency of.

The next instance of unquintessential leadership to get a lot of press this week has global implications, as well as terrorist implications. Government systems and corporate systems were the target – from China and Pakistan to the U.S. and from the U.S. to Iran (that we know of). This high-profile story also introduced the general public to a new term – spear phishing – which is already well-known in the cyber security field. In general terms, the unquintessential leadership behavior is hacking or trying to hack computers and networks.

Hacking – one famous hacking group is Anonymous – involves several unquintessential leadership traits: the deliberate breaking into and breaching, if possible, of computers and networks; distributing malicious or harmful software to either steal information or destroy information or incapacitate the computer or network; and, a lot of pride and arrogance in taking credit for the breach.

President Barack ObamaThe last unquintessential leadership news story I’ll cover for this week is the looming sequestration if President Obama and the US Congress don’t reach a budget agreement.

While both sides bear responsibility for the lack of an agreement, President Obama, as Commander-in-Chief, has shown an unquintessential leadership trait side of his introverted temperament – he’s an INTJ –  which I also am, so I understand what’s happened and why, but the unquintessential leadership aspect of his decision is a faulty cost-benefit analysis.

When INTJ’s have done everything in their power to try to resolve, negotiate, change, and conclude an impasse or breach, whether with an individual or a group of individuals, and nothing happens, as their energy levels get depleted and they get tired of hitting their heads against a brick wall, so to speak, they do a cost (how much am I putting into this?)-benefit (what is the best I can expect as a result?) analysis, and if the cost outweighs the benefit, they stop, close the door, and walk away for good.

Once that door is closed, it can’t be reopened, because the INTJ has moved on to things he or she can resolve, negotiate, change and conclude, and the last effort is no longer a part of their lives, literally. It’s over. Period.

That’s a part of the temperament and it drives all the other people in our lives crazy because it’s the only temperament that does this and none of the other temperaments understand it. Trust me, I’ve heard it enough to know it doesn’t make sense to anyone who’s not an INTJ.

That appears to be the point that President Obama has reached with the U.S. Congress.

The problem here with the lack of an agreement and the possible automatic sequester is that whatever the cost is to President Obama personally, it does not outweigh the benefits of continuing the resolution process, the negotiating, the change,  and successful conclusion needed to get past the breaches and impasses that exist. One of the traits of quintessential leadership is understanding that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one, and as the leader of the United States, President Obama needs to remember – and keep at it, now matter how it affects him personally, because this is the job that he has – the needs of the American people outweigh any personal needs that he has.

President Obama doesn’t get the luxury of being an ordinary INTJ where the stakes aren’t all that high if he walks away for good. At least not until 2017.

After reading extensive excerpts from the Senate Armed Services Committee’s confirmation hearing on January 31, 2013  considering retired Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel’s suitability as the next Secretary of Defense, I could not help but think of William Shakespeare, of Julius Caesar, of Brutus, of Marc Antony.

“So are they all, all honourable men” was the line from Marc Antony’s eulogy, which I memorized for oral recitation in 10th grade English class, that kept coming back to me. Because Marc Antony’s eulogy is facetious in its praise of the very men – and especially Brutus – he knows betrayed Julius Caesar and figuratively stabbed him in the back and literally stabbed him in the front.

I also thought of Dante Alighieri’s The Inferno and the nethermost layer of his hell, which was reserved for traitors. He assigns Brutus and Judas Iscariot to this layer, using this literary vehicle to show betrayal as the ultimate breach of trust. 

(It may interest you to know, by the way, that The Inferno, along with the rest of The Divine Comedy, is actually a political, not religious, book. This fictional work was Dante’s revenge against his political and personal enemies, but by using the cover of a religious treatise, he could condemn his enemies without fear of retaliation. However, the fictional, unscriptural concepts that Dante introduces in this work were later incorporated into the dogma of the church and became much of what both Protestant and Catholic adherents believe about the afterlife today – all of which is based on a work of complete fiction.)

Chuck Hagel Secretary of Defense HearingsThe reality is that few of the people involved in this proceeding are honorable men – and very few of them show any quintessential leadership traits. The overriding hypocrisy, the back-stabbing, and posturing by most of those on the Senate Armed Services Committee are all unquintessential leadership traits.

A glaring example of this emerged over and over as different members of the Armed Services Committee referred to Chuck Hagel in their lead-in to their questions as “friend” or “old friend,” and then each of those same people proceeded to deal with Mr. Hagel in a manner that was, not only unfriendly, but downright hostile. With “friends” like these, who needs enemies?

Arizona Senator John McCain was particularly notable in his hostility and outright bullying (please purchase Unquintessential Leadership for a thorough discussion of bullying and two other unquintessential leadership traits that are often closely related to it) during the hearing. This has been the trend of John McCain’s behavior and character since his unsuccessful 2008 U.S. presidential race. It seems that a bitterness and anger has set in with him that has made him the attacker, the accuser, the blamer, and the one who demands the final word and not only always has to be right, but has to hear, even if it requires brute force, everyone else admit he’s right.

McCain’s questioning of Chuck Hagel was a continuation of that behavior and character. Whatever strengths,John McCain Senate Armed Services Committee knowledge, experience, and respect that John McCain once brought to the table with his inclusion in Senate matters has been eclipsed – and perhaps lost, though, hopefully not for the long haul – by this unquintessential leadership behavior that now characterizes his interaction with almost everyone.

Of all the Senate Armed Services Committee members who questioned Chuck Hagel, the only one who based his questioning on actual things related to national defense that Chuck Hagel has discussed in the past in a measured, persistent-but-not-bullying way was South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. The stark contrast between his interrogation of Mr. Hagel and John McCain’s was easily discernible in print, but even more discernible in the video excerpts.

John McCain’s body language, tone, and face are those of an unquintessential leader. Everything is combat and he must win at all time and his “enemy” must publicly surrender. Lindsey Graham’s body language, tone, and face showed none of those things. It was clear, though, that his line of questioning was directed toward a centerpiece of American defense policy, and its importance was why he stayed with it to try to elicit a policy response from Chuck Hagel.

lindsey graham Armed Services Committee SenateOn the other side of the table in the confirmation hearing, however, was another unquintessential leader. As a quintessential leader who interviews and hires people routinely, if Chuck Hagel had been a candidate I was interviewing for a job, after about five minutes, I would have ended the interview and would have asked my HR department to send out a form letter to Mr. Hagel saying “thanks, but no thanks.”

Mr. Hagel was completely unprepared for any of the questions he was asked. He lacked key information on policy matters directly related to the job of Secretary of Defense. He lacked, it seemed, informed and well-thought out policies on international matters and foreign relations. In short, he seemed not to even be aware of the rudimentary elements and matters related to the job he is being considered for. Most of his time was spent embroiled in defending or being decimated about his past, and the end result was the question, at least in my mind, of why anyone thought Mr. Hagel was even remotely qualified to be considered for the Secretary of Defense position.

Quintessential leaders are (a) qualified and (b) extremely prepared for their jobs. That is what we as quintessential leaders must be at all times. We will never know all the answers to all the questions, but as quintessential leaders, it’s our responsibility to be honest and say, “I don’t know the answer to that, but I’ll find out and get back to you,” and then get back with an answer as soon as possible. You won’t lose respect if you don’t know all the answers, but you will lose respect if you don’t know any of the answers.

Quintessential leaders are also not hypocritical and disingenuous. You will not hear a quintessential leader call someone a friend and then treat him or her like an enemy. Quintessential leaders do not bully, do not insist on always being right nor do they insist that everyone publicly admit he or she is right, do not blame, do not accuse, do not attack, do not exhibit any kind of hostility. Disagreement and hostility are not twins. People can disagree without hating each other. And people who hate each other can agree.

As quintessential leaders, we should always look at the wealth of examples of people in leadership positions that surrounds us every day and identify what is quintessential leadership and unquintessential leadership. Then we need to take what we find and measure ourselves against it, because knowledge doesn’t do us any good unless we apply it. And the only person you or I can change is ourselves. If you’re not growing and changing, you’re at best stagnating, but more likely, you’re going backward.

And that’s one direction, as quintessential leaders, we need to be vigilant about ensuring that we’re not going consistently. As long as you and I breathe for a living, there will be times when we take a step or two back. That’s life. But the difference between quintessential leaders and unquintessential leaders is that quintessential leaders know this, are continually watching for it, recognize it as soon as it starts happen, and take immediate action to stop and reverse it.

Where are you today? Going backward? Stationary (stagnant)? Going forward? 

What are you going to do about it?