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Jena McGregor

Staff writer Jena McGregor teases out the leadership issues in the day’s news.

Tom Fox

Tom Fox

Guest contributor Tom Fox, of the Partnership for Public Service, writes weekly about issues in the federal workplace.

Lillian Cunningham

Lillian Cunningham

Lillian Cunningham is the editor of On Leadership and writes features for the section.

Robert Goodwin

Robert J. Goodwin is CEO and co-founder of Executives Without Borders; former deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force and appointee at USAID, the State Department and the White House.
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Rome won’t be built in a day

The Question: With a federal shutdown looming, how concerned should Congressional leaders be about the image of U.S. government efficacy their stalemate projects--both to Americans and the rest of the world? Is the image problem enough to warrant a compromise, even if it means abandoning certain principles?

Near the end of his presidency, Lyndon Johnson’s domestic policies were dominated by the Great Society–or the massive government expansion program that set about to finish what Franklin Roosevelt had started three decades earlier. It was to be his legacy. It was his highest priority. But with war raging in Vietnam, he knew he simply didn’t have the resources to see it through to completion. Ultimately, the Great Society fell by the wayside as dollars and energy were devoted to Southeast Asia. It was likely the hardest choice President Johnson had to make in the White House–but he made it, because that’s what leaders do.

If leadership is defined by nothing else, it is the ability to put constituencies’ priorities ahead of one’s own. While the county’s desire to step up involvement in Vietnam is certainly debatable, the fact that Johnson compromised a great deal in doing so is not. He put what he thought was best for the country ahead of what he thought was best for himself. Today, political leaders on both sides of the aisle need to do the same.

Leaders in both Congress and the White House must abandon the “win now” approach for one more focused on the long-term. Rome won’t be built in a day. The longer our leaders pretend it can be, the longer they risk being perceived as disconnected at home and ineffectual abroad. A government shutdown would impact millions of Americans whose idea of “essential” services likely differs a great deal from that of the government’s. Their needs must come before the political needs of those who represent them. Principles need not be abandoned; but merely set aside for good of the country.

Failure to do so would send the message that politics comes first in the United States. Right now, that’s not a message any domestic or foreign audience wants to hear.

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Robert Goodwin  | Apr 7, 2011 11:44 AM

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