We wrote Leadership Matters because societal leadership and governance are the ultimate challenge for social scientists. My co-author, Michael Genovese, and I are longtime students of the American presidency, and to study presidential leadership is to learn that leadership breakthroughs are rare and, when they do occur, are the product of far more than one person, one speech, one institution or even one era.
The exercise of leadership is, moreover, full of contradictions, paradoxes and “black swan” unexpected events. We wrote to unpack many of the paradoxes of leadership.
Recent polls show that Americans have very little faith in their political leaders, and political leadership in general. What kind of concrete steps need to be taken to restore faith in our political leaders?
Well, people have always been skeptical if not cynical about political leaders. Trust may have declined in recent years because new technologies and investigative reporting techniques make it harder and harder for officials to hide when they dissemble. Modern technologies also amplify the demonizing of one’s rival in contemporary electioneering.
We can’t legislate trust any more than we can regulate or instill authenticity in candidates.
Greek playwrights delighted their audiences by satirizing their politicians—just as Jon Stewart, Maureen Dowd, Jay Leno and Rush Limbaugh do today.
We can’t love representative democracy and hate politicians. For to completely scorn politics and politicians comes very close to scorning constitutional democracy and, possibly, ourselves.
A quote from your book: “Leadership requires successive displays of contrasting characteristics.” What is the difference between that and “flip flopping,” the leadership criticism often leveled against Mitt Romney?
I think we are probably too put off by charges of flip-flopping. This year’s candidates have done their fair share of this, and the media love these ‘gotcha’ stories. But, looking back in time, we liked that Lincoln changed his mind about how to deal with slavery and deploying blacks to fight for the Union. We liked it when FDR went back on his promise to balance the budget and when Nixon changed his mind about the best way to deal with China.