Thursday, August 10, 2017

Some thoughts on leadership, part 2 — how not to lead

If there’s one thing that the administration of Donald Trump has shown me — and it’s shown a lot since he was first inaugurated in January — it’s how not to lead.

Perhaps most books on leadership understand that leadership requires cooperation, not coercion. Standing up saying “Follow me or else” simply doesn’t inspire most people toward trust without reason, nor should it. You have to have a track record because, frankly, you can’t lead where you’ve never been.

Two examples:

A quarter-century ago jazz pianist Bob James called two of his friends, guitarist Lee Ritenour and drummer Harvey Mason, to work on a new album; he asked them for a recommendation for a bass player, and they both suggested Nathan East. That group clicked exceptionally well, so seeing an opportunity, James asked they others if they would be interested in forming a band, and they agreed.

But since he recognized that these were all top-notch musicians and, since at the time Ritenour and Mason had music recorded under their own names, when it came to compositions, arrangements and production James decided to give them equal say in how things were run. The band, dubbed Fourplay, is in fact on tour as I write. (East, at their encouragement, has recorded his first two albums in the last three years, the first up for a Grammy two years ago.)

I also do West Coast Swing, a very versatile but demanding partner dance which takes a lot of work, especially for a lead. It’s unique among such dances in that it allows the “follow” a lot of power to “hijack” a pattern and take it in another direction, which as a lead I do appreciate from time to time. I’m not that great a dancer, truth be told, which is why I still take lessons.

It was thus the height of hubris when President Trump declared upon securing the Republican nomination for president, “I alone can fix it” — hubris because he had never been part of the political scene and especially since he hasn’t leaned on more experienced hands to help him through the process. More to the point, allies are getting tired of his “America First” shtick, his rejection of the idea that “we’re all in this together” not going over at all.

For decades people have complained that “government should be run like a business.” Uh — no, especially in our bottom-up political culture where (at least in theory) the people at the top should answer to the folks at the bottom, and even in business you have to hire good people and let them play to their strengths. But Trump is so power- and attention-hungry that he can’t, or won’t, share the spotlight and — important — he’s not mentoring anyone.

Bottom line, effective leadership takes a lot of humility. We’re not seeing it in the White House right now, nor do I expect to see it over the next couple of years.

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