Bush on Leadership

Today, George W. Bush, ended his press conference (after the surprise drop-in on Baghdad yesterday) by waxing on leadership:

I understand leadership. Leadership requires determination, you gotta be determined to do something in order to be able to lead particularly in difficult circumstances. You gotta have will, you gotta have desire to succeed, and you gotta have a plan. And that’s what I’ve found in Iraq.

First, let me assure you that I’m not going to turn this blog into a political soapbox. I’ll leave that for others (like my brother at BarkBarkWoofWoof). However, I should reveal that I am virtually never impressed by the President. So, when he speaks on one of my favorite topics, leadership, I feel compelled to comment.

Photo by Jason Reed / Reuters

And surprisingly, he’s got a lot of it right. As I say time and again, a lot of leadership is knowing where you are going, making that direction really clear to everyone, sticking to that in the face of distraction, and pushing until you get things done. And that’s what Bush is talking about here. So, I guess he’s on target.

However, another big part of leadership is listening, and I’ve got to say it’s a part that Bush doesn’t seem to do very well. Surely he listens well to those immediately around him, some of the buzz is that he’s merely a puppet at the control of his handlers. But that’s not the real issue. The area where he seems to have the most trouble is getting bad news. It seems (albeit from a great distance) that he either doesn’t like to hear bad news, or his handlers keep it from him. In either case, it seems that bad news just doesn’t get much of a hearing in the oval office.

At some point everyone needs to take stock, listen to all the input, and make the tough choice

To be fair, this is arguably the toughest part of leadership. You have a vision and a direction, and something comes in unexpectedly to upset that plan. It can be a very tough decision whether to modify your plan or to press on in the face of the adversity, hoping to push past the difficulty. So Bush is neither alone in his challenge, nor to be faulted for his perseverance. But at some point everyone needs to take stock, listen to all the input, and make the tough choice. Key to this is good, quality, honest feedback straight from the people in the trenches. I’m just not sure how much of that gets to the president, or how much he really hears.

And let’s not get me started on the “you gotta have a plan” part. I’m pretty confident that the plan ended with “Mission Accomplished”, and we’ve been flying blind since then. But that’s another topic, and one best left for others.