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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Electing Leadership?

We're in the final countdown now, to the presidential elections here in the United States. Just a few more days until one of the biggest decisions in our country will be made. The world is watching, literally. I was in a Ugandan prison last month and was surprised to hear the prisoners discussing the U.S. presidential elections. For the world's only remaining super-power, the President of the United States has been called "the most powerful person on earth." So while we Americans think about electing our country's foremost leader, the world seems to understand that whatever we decide has an enormous impact on everyone else as well. I wonder if Americans are cognizant of that truth when they decide for whom they will vote.

In the elections we tend to discuss leadership and refer to the elected officials as leaders. But I've been thinking and I'm not so sure we have a handle on that. I mean to say that maybe leadership isn't the issue we think it is. If you look up the definition of leadership in the dictionary (or go to you'll find it is rather ambiguous. I read all of the available definitions of leader or leadership and think to myself, "No, that is not what I'm looking for in America today."

You can jump over to some Internet searches on leadership, and you end up in topics like qualities of leadership and other such topics - which tend to be someone's opinion of what leadership really is. Go into any bookstore today and there seems to be no end to business or religious books on leadership either. Quite frankly, I get sick of hearing it. Some of these books are pretty lame. It seems that we humans tend to confuse success with leadership. We take a football player, for example, who is a good athlete and makes a ton of money - and we call him (or her) a leader. Or we take a person who has made a lot of money in business - and we call him (or her) a leader. Is that really the criteria for leadership?

I am concluding that there is a cultural definition of leadership, at least in this country. It is perhaps better defined as influence or celebrity. It doesn't seem to be comprised of a particular set of skills or gifts or even behaviors. After all, the bully on the school playground can be considered a leader in today's terms. And we've all known about evil leaders like Hitler or Idi Amin. For centuries, and continuing today, the world has had many leaders that were truly bad people. A leader can be evil and still be considered a leader. Some would argue that they may not be effective leaders. But perhaps we assume that any reasonable definition of effective leadership would require positive results. Unfortunately, no dictionary seems to have that definition.

So if leadership isn't all it's cracked up to be, what should we elect instead? For starters, I think we should elect wisdom. It is that captured learning that lets you make extraordinary observations of past experiences and present information to come to new conclusions and make decisions that produce better results. I think we should elect discernment. It is the ability to sort through the noise and separate the urgent from the important. It is time we elect integrity. It is consistent thinking, speaking and behaving against a morally high set of values that are applied in all situations at all times.

We could argue for things like courage, for example. But I've seen courage be incredibly foolish. Sometimes people aren't afraid of things that they should be afraid of! Or we could argue for honesty and truth, but I've seen the truth spoken without love - and it turns out to be just mean. We could argue for tenacity or perseverance, maybe high energy. But I suspect those would ultimately fail us as well.

No, I believe I'm going to hold onto wisdom, discernment and integrity. Whoever is elected will be a world leader, good or bad. The world will be impacted by their leadership, whether they are effective or ineffective. But I think that Americans and the rest of the world will be best served if our next President is wise, discerning and a man (or woman) of integrity. Most of all, I would like to see our next President be truly submitted to God, leaning not on his own understanding, but turning to God in prayer for every decision and every perspective. So, my fellow Americans, do you think that is the person we can elect in the next few days?

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