Where have all the leaders gone?

by Lee Iacocca

Excerpted from Where Have All the Leaders Gone? by Lee Iacocca with Catherine Whitney

lee_iacocca
Had Enough?

Am I the only guy in this country who’s fed up with what’s
happening? Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody
murder. We’ve got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state
right over a cliff, we’ve got corporate gangsters stealing us blind,
and we can’t even clean up after a hurricane much less build a hybrid
car. But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their
heads when the politicians say, “Stay the course.”

Stay the course? You’ve got to be kidding. This is America,
not the damned Titanic. I’ll give you a sound bite: Throw the bums out!

You might think I’m getting senile, that I’ve gone off my rocker, and maybe
I have. But someone has to speak up. I hardly recognize this country
anymore. The President of the United States is given a free pass to
ignore the Constitution, tap our phones, and lead us to war on a pack
of lies. Congress responds to record deficits by passing a huge tax cut
for the wealthy (thanks, but I don’t need it). The most famous business
leaders are not the innovators but the guys in handcuffs. While we’re
fiddling in Iraq, the Middle East is burning and nobody seems to know
what to do. And the press is waving pom-poms instead of asking hard
questions. That’s not the promise of America my parents and yours
traveled across the ocean for. I’ve had enough. How about you?

I’ll go a step further. You can’t call yourself a patriot if you’re
not outraged. This is a fight I’m ready and willing to have.

My friends tell me to calm down. They say, “Lee, you’re eighty-two
years old. Leave the rage to the young people.” I’d love to — as soon as
I can pry them away from their iPods for five seconds and get them to
pay attention. I’m going to speak up because it’s my patriotic duty. I
think people will listen to me. They say I have a reputation as a
straight shooter. So I’ll tell you how I see it, and it’s not pretty,
but at least it’s real. I’m hoping to strike a nerve in those young
folks who say they don’t vote because they don’t trust politicians to
represent their interests. Hey, America, wake up. These guys work for us.

Who Are These Guys, Anyway?

Why are we in this mess? How did we end up with this crowd in
Washington? Well, we voted for them — or at least some of us did. But
I’ll tell you what we didn’t do. We didn’t agree to suspend
the Constitution. We didn’t agree to stop asking questions or demanding
answers. Some of us are sick and tired of people who call free speech
treason. Where I come from that’s a dictatorship, not a democracy.

And don’t tell me it’s all the fault of right-wing Republicans or
liberal Democrats. That’s an intellectually lazy argument, and it’s
part of the reason we’re in this stew. We’re not just a nation of factions.
We’re a people. We share common principles and ideals. And we rise and fall together.

Where are the voices of leaders who can inspire us to action and
make us stand taller? What happened to the strong and resolute party of
Lincoln? What happened to the courageous, populist party of FDR and
Truman? There was a time in this country when the voices of great
leaders lifted us up and made us want to do better. Where have all the
leaders gone?

The Test of a Leader

I’ve never been Commander in Chief, but I’ve been a CEO. I
understand a few things about leadership at the top. I’ve figured out
nine points — not ten (I don’t want people accusing me of thinking I’m
Moses). I call them the “Nine Cs of Leadership.” They’re not fancy or
complicated. Just clear, obvious qualities that every true leader
should have. We should look at how the current administration stacks
up. Like it or not, this crew is going to be around until January 2009.
Maybe we can learn something before we go to the polls in 2008. Then
let’s be sure we use the leadership test to screen the candidates who
say they want to run the country. It’s up to us to choose wisely.

So, here’s my C list:

A leader has to show CURIOSITY. He has to listen to
people outside of the “Yes, sir” crowd in his inner circle. He has to
read voraciously, because the world is a big, complicated place. George
W. Bush brags about never reading a newspaper. “I just scan the
headlines,” he says. Am I hearing this right? He’s the President of the
United States and he never reads a newspaper? Thomas Jefferson once
said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government
without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not
hesitate for a moment to prefer the latter.” Bush disagrees. As long as
he gets his daily hour in the gym, with Fox News piped through the
sound system, he’s ready to go.

If a leader never steps outside his comfort zone to hear different
ideas, he grows stale. If he doesn’t put his beliefs to the test, how
does he know he’s right? The inability to listen is a form of
arrogance. It means either you think you already know it all, or you
just don’t care. Before the 2006 election, George Bush made a big point
of saying he didn’t listen to the polls. Yeah, that’s what they all say
when the polls stink. But maybe he should have listened,
because 70 percent of the people were saying he was on the wrong track.
It took a “thumping” on election day to wake him up, but even then you
got the feeling he wasn’t listening so much as he was calculating how
to do a better job of convincing everyone he was right.

A leader has to be CREATIVE, go out on a limb, be willing
to try something different. You know, think outside the box.
George Bush prides himself on never changing, even as the world around
him is spinning out of control. God forbid someone should accuse him of
flip-flopping. There’s a disturbingly messianic fervor to his
certainty. Senator Joe Biden recalled a conversation he had with Bush a
few months after our troops marched into Baghdad. Joe was in the Oval
Office outlining his concerns to the President — the explosive mix of
Shiite and Sunni, the disbanded Iraqi army, the problems securing the
oil fields. “The President was serene,” Joe recalled. “He
told me he was sure that we were on the right course and that all would
be well. ‘Mr. President,’ I finally said, ‘how can you be so sure when
you don’t yet know all the facts?'” Bush then reached over and put a
steadying hand on Joe’s shoulder. “My instincts,” he said. “My
instincts.” Joe was flabbergasted. He told Bush, “Mr. President, your
instincts aren’t good enough.” Joe Biden sure didn’t think the matter
was settled. And, as we all know now, it wasn’t.

Leadership is all about managing change — whether you’re leading a
company or leading a country. Things change, and you get creative. You
adapt. Maybe Bush was absent the day they covered that at Harvard
Business School.

A leader has to COMMUNICATE. I’m not talking about
running off at the mouth or spouting sound bites. I’m talking about
facing reality and telling the truth. Nobody in the current
administration seems to know how to talk straight anymore. Instead,
they spend most of their time trying to convince us that things are not
really as bad as they seem. I don’t know if it’s denial or dishonesty,
but it can start to drive you crazy after a while. Communication has to
start with telling the truth, even when it’s painful. The war in Iraq
has been, among other things, a grand failure of communication. Bush is
like the boy who didn’t cry wolf when the wolf was at the
door. After years of being told that all is well, even as the
casualties and chaos mount, we’ve stopped listening to him.

A leader has to be a person of CHARACTER. That
means knowing the difference between right and wrong and having the
guts to do the right thing. Abraham Lincoln once said, “If you want to
test a man’s character, give him power.” George Bush has a lot of
power. What does it say about his character? Bush has shown a
willingness to take bold action on the world stage because he has the power,
but he shows little regard for the grievous consequences. He has sent
our troops (not to mention hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi
citizens) to their deaths — for what? To build our oil reserves? To
avenge his daddy because Saddam Hussein once tried to have him killed?
To show his daddy he’s tougher? The motivations behind the war in Iraq
are questionable, and the execution of the war has been a disaster. A
man of character does not ask a single soldier to die for a failed
policy.

A leader must have COURAGE. I’m talking about balls.
(That even goes for female leaders.) Swagger isn’t courage. Tough talk
isn’t courage. George Bush comes from a blue-blooded Connecticut
family, but he likes to talk like a cowboy. You know, My gun is bigger than your gun.
Courage in the twenty-first century doesn’t mean posturing and bravado.
Courage is a commitment to sit down at the negotiating table and talk.

If you’re a politician, courage means taking a position even when
you know it will cost you votes. Bush can’t even make a public
appearance unless the audience has been handpicked and sanitized. He
did a series of so-called town hall meetings last year, in auditoriums
packed with his most devoted fans. The questions were all softballs.

To be a leader you’ve got to have CONVICTION — a fire
in your belly. You’ve got to have passion. You’ve got to really want to
get something done. How do you measure fire in the belly? Bush has set
the all-time record for number of vacation days taken by a U.S.
President — four hundred and counting. He’d rather clear brush on his
ranch than immerse himself in the business of governing. He even told
an interviewer that the high point of his presidency so far was
catching a seven-and-a-half-pound perch in his hand-stocked lake.

It’s no better on Capitol Hill. Congress was in session only
ninety-seven days in 2006. That’s eleven days less than the record set
in 1948, when President Harry Truman coined the term do-nothing Congress.
Most people would expect to be fired if they worked so little and had
nothing to show for it. But Congress managed to find the time to vote
itself a raise. Now, that’s not leadership.

A leader should have CHARISMA. I’m not talking about being flashy.
Charisma is the quality that makes people want to follow you. It’s the ability to
inspire. People follow a leader because they trust
him. That’s my definition of charisma. Maybe George Bush is a great guy
to hang out with at a barbecue or a ball game. But put him at a global
summit where the future of our planet is at stake, and he doesn’t look
very presidential. Those frat-boy pranks and the kidding around he
enjoys so much don’t go over that well with world leaders. Just ask
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who received an unwelcome shoulder
massage from our President at a G-8 Summit. When he came up behind her
and started squeezing, I thought she was going to go right through the
roof.

A leader has to be COMPETENT. That seems obvious,
doesn’t it? You’ve got to know what you’re doing. More important than
that, you’ve got to surround yourself with people who know what they’re
doing. Bush brags about being our first MBA President. Does that make
him competent? Well, let’s see. Thanks to our first MBA President,
we’ve got the largest deficit in history, Social Security is on life
support, and we’ve run up a half-a-trillion-dollar price tag (so far)
in Iraq. And that’s just for starters. A leader has to be a problem
solver, and the biggest problems we face as a nation seem to be on the
back burner.

You can’t be a leader if you don’t have COMMON SENSE.
I call this Charlie Beacham’s rule. When I was a young guy just
starting out in the car business, one of my first jobs was as Ford’s
zone manager in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. My boss was a guy named
Charlie Beacham, who was the East Coast regional manager. Charlie was a
big Southerner, with a warm drawl, a huge smile, and a core of steel.
Charlie used to tell me, “Remember, Lee, the only thing you’ve got
going for you as a human being is your ability to reason and your
common sense. If you don’t know a dip of horseshit from a dip of
vanilla ice cream, you’ll never make it.” George Bush doesn’t have
common sense. He just has a lot of sound bites. You know — Mr.they’ll-welcome-us-as-liberators-
no-child-left-behind-heck-of-a-job-Brownie-mission-accomplished
Bush.

Former President Bill Clinton once said, “I grew up in an alcoholic
home. I spent half my childhood trying to get into the reality-based
world — and I like it here.”

I think our current President should visit the real world once in a while.

The Biggest C is Crisis

Leaders are made, not born. Leadership is forged in times of crisis.
It’s easy to sit there with your feet up on the desk and talk theory.
Or send someone else’s kids off to war when you’ve never seen a
battlefield yourself. It’s another thing to lead when your world comes
tumbling down.

On September 11, 2001, we needed a strong leader more than any other
time in our history. We needed a steady hand to guide us out of the
ashes. Where was George Bush? He was reading a story about a pet goat
to kids in Florida when he heard about the attacks. He kept sitting
there for twenty minutes with a baffled look on his face. It’s all on
tape. You can see it for yourself. Then, instead of taking the quickest
route back to Washington and immediately going on the air to reassure
the panicked people of this country, he decided it wasn’t safe to
return to the White House. He basically went into hiding for the
day — and he told Vice President Dick Cheney to stay put in his bunker.
We were all frozen in front of our TVs, scared out of our wits, waiting
for our leaders to tell us that we were going to be okay, and there was
nobody home. It took Bush a couple of days to get his bearings and
devise the right photo op at Ground Zero.

That was George Bush’s moment of truth, and he was paralyzed. And
what did he do when he’d regained his composure? He led us down the
road to Iraq — a road his own father had considered disastrous when he
was President. But Bush didn’t listen to Daddy. He listened to a higher
father. He prides himself on being faith based, not reality based. If
that doesn’t scare the crap out of you, I don’t know what will.

A Hell of a Mess

So here’s where we stand. We’re immersed in a bloody war with no
plan for winning and no plan for leaving. We’re running the biggest
deficit in the history of the country. We’re losing the manufacturing
edge to Asia, while our once-great companies are getting slaughtered by
health care costs. Gas prices are skyrocketing, and nobody in power has
a coherent energy policy. Our schools are in trouble. Our borders are
like sieves. The middle class is being squeezed every which way. These
are times that cry out for leadership.

But when you look around, you’ve got to ask: “Where have all the leaders gone?”
Where are the curious, creative communicators? Where are the people of
character, courage, conviction, competence, and common sense? I may be
a sucker for alliteration, but I think you get the point.

Name me a leader who has a better idea for homeland security than
making us take off our shoes in airports and throw away our shampoo?
We’ve spent billions of dollars building a huge new bureaucracy, and
all we know how to do is react to things that have already happened.

Name me one leader who emerged from the crisis of Hurricane Katrina.
Congress has yet to spend a single
day evaluating the response to the hurricane, or demanding
accountability for the decisions that were made in the crucial hours
after the storm. Everyone’s hunkering down, fingers crossed, hoping it
doesn’t happen again. Now, that’s just crazy. Storms happen. Deal with
it. Make a plan. Figure out what you’re going to do the next time.

Name me an industry leader who is thinking creatively about how we
can restore our competitive edge in manufacturing. Who would have
believed that there could ever be a time when “the Big Three” referred
to Japanese car companies? How did this happen — and more important, what
are we going to do about it?

Name me a government leader who can articulate a plan for paying
down the debt, or solving the energy crisis, or managing the health
care problem. The silence is deafening. But these are the crises that
are eating away at our country and milking the middle class dry.

I have news for the gang in Congress. We didn’t elect you to sit on
your asses and do nothing and remain silent while our democracy is
being hijacked and our greatness is being replaced with mediocrity.
What is everybody so afraid of? That some bobblehead on Fox News will
call them a name? Give me a break. Why don’t you guys show some spine
for a change?

Had Enough?

Hey, I’m not trying to be the voice of gloom and doom here. I’m
trying to light a fire. I’m speaking out because I have hope. I believe
in America. In my lifetime I’ve had the privilege of living through
some of America’s greatest moments. I’ve also experienced some of our
worst crises — the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War, the
Kennedy assassination, the Vietnam War, the 1970s oil crisis, and the
struggles of recent years culminating with 9/11. If I’ve learned one
thing, it’s this: You don’t get anywhere by standing on the sidelines
waiting for somebody else to take action. Whether it’s building a
better car or building a better future for our children, we all have a
role to play. That’s the challenge I’m raising in this book. It’s a
call to action for people who, like me, believe in America. It’s not
too late, but it’s getting pretty close. So let’s shake off the
horseshit and go to work. Let’s tell ’em all we’ve had enough.

Excerpted from Where Have All the Leaders Gone?
by
Lee Iacocca with Catherine Whitney


Copyright © 2007 by Lee Iacocca