A topic I’ve long studied, good leadership to me is characterized by two key things: vision and compassion.
Good leaders – the ones I will follow and the kind I strove to be – have a compelling vision of the future, a vision that seems achievable and reachable within a reasonable period of time. Kennedy’s vision for reaching the moon in a decade seemed possible even if not probable. And in fact, it was achieved one year before Kennedy predicted.
Obama’s vision for getting the US independent of foreign oil also is possible. Just as there were for Kennedy’s vision, there are obstacles and many interests lined up against this vision. Yet, the fact of setting out that vision puts Obama in the leadership role. If he can successfully mobilize enough people behind that vision, we can overcome any obstacle.
Yet…is Obama’s a compelling vision? Well, I don’t think so. It’s a little fear-based – and I don’t believe that a fear-based vision is ever really compelling. It’s usually much less compelling to run away from something instead of toward something. Can Obama rephrase the vision more positively?
More compelling to me is a vision that states “the US will generate half its electricity from renewable sources within 10 years.” It’s a huge goal, it’s measurable, and it’s possible. Sure, there are some big “ifs.” If enough people support it. If enough resources are devoted to building the necessary infrastructure (e.g. a national grid, better storage capacity, affordable technology). If the private sector and public sector work cooperatively.
That’s the vision piece of good leadership.
Compassion is the other piece of good leadership. I define compassion as caring about other people – their life circumstances, their opinions, their hopes, their fears. It’s about knowing enough about people as they really are and where they really live that you can talk to them and be understood. It’s about beginning where people really are so that you can lift them up, appeal to their dreams, and encourage them to believe those dreams are possible.
Compassion is about understanding that people have fears and sometimes think they are not good enough or strong enough or smart enough – and then connecting with them to help them find their strength and worth and brains and other resources. It’s about helping others find their own abilities and belief in themselves.
With compassion, a good leader can enlist people in the movement toward the vision. With compassion, a good leader can be a great human being.