After any political debate, the reigning question is always "who won." As far as I am concerned there were no clear winners in Friday's debate between Obama & McCain although I have heard mixed reviews from most people. Interestingly, many people's views about the debate winner didn't necessarily correlate with their preferred candidate.
Leadership & the Military
For me, Friday night's debates crystallized something concerning leadership I had been thinking about since I re-read a novel set at West Point. The author [L.K. TruscottIV] like McCain comes from a multi-generational military family. However, unlike McCain and his family who are graduates of Annapolis [Navy], Truscott & his family are all West Point [Army] graduates. Be that as it may, both men have the distinct imprimatur of revered military institutions. While these schools are different to be sure, when it comes to teaching the fundamentals of leadership, there is common ground.
Leadership & the Consequences of Battle
In discussing the art of [military] leadership, Truscott makes the point that in order to be successful, a leader must care about those he leads and that concern has to be palpable. It is not something that can be faked. The rationale is simple. When one is charged with leading men and women into battle, they have to believe that the person leading them is willing to die for them or they will not be willing to follow or die for each other. According to the author, the unofficial message bestowed by the 'Point" is that it is this sacrifice, one that goes beyond the call of duty, honor, & country that speaks to the essence of leadership.
An Emotional Connection
In business and political terms this translates into making that all important emotional connection with people, which is the very thing that seems to completely escape Obama [in debates or brief communication & made more glaring when compared to his inspiring oratory]. I'm not saying he doesn't care but rather that he doesn't communicate it on an emotional level. The few times I've seen him try he looks scripted and false. On the other hand, regardless of how you feel about McCain's politics, this fundamental element of leadership is literally & figuratively a part of his DNA. He's learned it and he's lived it & it's something that clearly comes across.
The Power of the 'Point'
Given that one of the essentials of leadership is the ability to "take people where they don't necessarily want to go" be it a military mission, voting for a $700 billion bailout, or leading your workgroup to meet a tough deadline, without that essential emotional connection, people will be reluctant to follow, especially in the face of significant risk. Mike Krzyzewski [pronounced sha-shev-ski] otherwise known as Coach K who coaches Duke in basketball is so successful in part because he genuinely cares about his players. This authentic concern is one of his bedrock tenets of coaching, one he also preaches as a leadership coach to corporations. Where did he learn this? The seed was planted by his close knit family but flowered as a West Point cadet. Little wonder that the title of one of his books on leadership is called Leading with the Heart.
Now the fact that McCain appears to have better leadership qualities is by no means indicative of who will win because nothing about this presidential season is predictable. This is simply a significant shortcoming I found repeated in Obama's performance on Friday and throughout the campaign. However in the event that he prevails, in the face of 2 wars, a massive financial crisis, and many other serious domestic and international concerns, the next president will have to lead this country down some perilous paths so he will need every tool at his disposal. For Obama, learning this critical lesson in leadership would be a useful place to start.
Truscott,L.K., Dress Grey
Krzyzewski,M.Leading With the Heart