Utterly Rudderless (A Poverty of Virtue)

May 03, 2007 by susan
Incurious George

An essay in which Nathan Hilder, aka Perhansa, ponders the qualities of leadership, and determines that in-Curious George has none.

by perhansa
If you think you're a leader, look behind you and see if anyone is following. If no one is following, then you're just taking a walk. - Anonymous
Click here for the whole enchilada.

Now that Susan and Barbara have been so kind as to introduce my true identity, when you hear that I have spent a good deal of time specializing in "leadership" training and coaching you might be inclined to imagine someone like Zig Ziglar, Dale Carnegie, or Tony Robbins, your typical positive thinking DVD-auditorium style evangelists for Corporate America or a self-styled self-help guru like Deepak Chopra.
You would be mistaken. Think T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, or Paul Gaugin, artists who also held down "day jobs" in the world of commerce'"someone who has chosen to earn a living while treading the path of creativity rather than starve for their art. I am an artist who happens to think creativity and artistic sensibilities shouldn't be separated from leadership in life or commerce.

I've had the great good fortune to work for or observe some excellent leaders in action and to learn from some of the best thinkers in the field. As someone who has spent a good deal of time teaching leadership skills and coaching leaders to enhance their ability to lead others, I have strong opinions about the current "leadership" (or lack thereof) in Washington, hence, the opening quote. There is, in my humble opinion, a good deal of aimless walking about going on in the nation's capitol, beginning with the Walker-in-Chief. So I thought I'd share a few thoughts on the poverty of leadership and offer some suggestions on how we might steer this rudderless ship that seems to be sailing toward imminent disaster. The C-Line's been dinged of late for not offering "facts" but fiction. I'd like to throw down the gauntlet to the defenders of the status quo to offer up even a shred of evidence that the people in charge in D.C. deserve our following.

Leadership Style
Our Decider-in-Chief likes to compare his own leadership style to notable personages of the past. He has, on occasion, likened himself to Lincoln, Washington, Truman, and Churchill. One of the chief problems I perceive in in-Curious George is that he hasn't any style of leadership. In fact, he's a follower pretending to be a leader. The great leaders I've observed have a natural comfort with their role. They step up to the task of leading instinctively, not through default or crisis. In-Curious George often seems uncomfortable stepping up to the task of leadership. He likes to pose and posture as a leader. He seems to feel an urgent need to remind people or declare that he is in charge (The Decider) because his actions and instincts don't clearly communicate that message. He is a classic example of the Peter Principle -- he has risen to a level where he is over his head and, sad to say, not competent to do the job. He has a tendency to surround himself with people who are friendly to him but, like him, not competent (think Brownie & Alberto). I don't care if he's likable or not; a guy you'd want to have a beer with or not. One thing is undeniable to me. He does not have the requisite skills to lead. And yet, he somehow got himself put in charge of the world's most powerful and complex government. If you feel like you've been living a six-year nightmare'"you have.

The Vision Thing
One thing I have come away with from 25 years of working with leaders is that the most successful and effective leaders are "visionary". Great leaders inspire people with a vision of what is possible and help people see how they can be a part of something meaningful and satisfying. This administration is bereft of vision, with the exception of the apocalyptic visions they use to marshal fear and supplication. Barack Obama has garnered a great deal of enthusiasm by taking the opposite approach'"starting with a vision of hope and the future. The response he's received is not at all surprising. The question now is whether there is substance behind it. But when you have no positive vision, you have to garner an emotional commitment through a negative vision or fear of the unthinkable (think mushroom clouds or chaos and calamity). What has this administration ever offered in the way of a positive vision for our nation? Nothing; nada; empty words, clichs, sound bites, and threat levels; incompetence in Iraq, lack of focus and sustainability in Afghanistan; negligence in New Orleans. Not once, never, an inspiration'"unless you consider greed, parochial self-interest, and a Dow Jones Industrial Average above 13,000 as your idea of inspiration.

Strength as Virtue
In his writings on the concept of "servant leadership," Robert Greenleaf wrote at length about strength as a basis for ethical leadership. He often began discussions about strength with the following quote: "It is an art to drive hard with a light hand." Great leaders, ethical leaders, exhibit strength'"internal fortitude mixed with equal parts caution and compassion. They know that anything worth doing requires a community and sacrifice. These two things are avoided at all cost by the current administration. Much has been written about the sense of community that was present after 9/11. (ed's note. The wave that Rudy Giulliani still rides.) The opportunity to step back, examine ourselves, and decide how we want to move forward together has never been greater than since WWII. Yet today there is no longer any sense of community or any commitment to the way forward. We are divided, angry, distrustful and focused inward, with screaming voices on the Right and screaming voices on the Left and the disillusioned or disinterested in between. We've neglected the tragedy in Darfur. We've been utterly remiss to the point of contemptible in our unresponsiveness to climate change. We've conducted a divisive war on borrowed funds. We've asked for no sacrifice except from the families sending their offspring into the hell hole we've help create in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A great leader would have called on his or her nation to look into its heart and choose carefully how to move ahead. A great leader would not have said, everything has changed but go shopping and pretend nothing has changed and keep the economy humming'"approve my tax cuts indefinitely. Where was the national dialogue? Where the communal introspection? Wounded at heart, did we reflect, reach out and decide together what was best? Or did we strike out in anger and vengeance and allow ourselves to be drawn into a web of deceit about the "war on terror" and the hidden dangers lurking in every corner, hating us "for our freedoms"? The opportunities lost can never be reclaimed. With a true leader at the helm, 9/11 could have been a wound whose scar left us with greater strength and virtue. Instead, it became an ominous symbol of everything "evil" and anti-American.

Like the mythic stories of Solomon, great leaders have wisdom. Wisdom is born of a deep understanding of history, of human nature, and a hard earned humility. Great leaders are philosophical'"they love wisdom. Great leaders desire knowledge, insight, and awareness, understanding. In-Curious George believes he already has the Answer'"it comes from his God and his Bible and his Financiers. He has no need of philosophy, no need of knowledge or wisdom. God has handed it to him the same way his earthly daddy or other benefactors have handed him most of what he's acquired in life. Laura claims no one suffers from his decisions more than her husband. To feel, really feel the impact and consequences of what he's done, there has to be some depth of character'"some "soul lines;" reservoirs of compassion worn into a person's heart and soul by the suffering and contingency of life. I know this will feel both harsh and judgmental, but I look in vain for evidence of soul lines in him. (ed.'s note. Harsh? Judgmental? Perhansa, do you know who you're hanging out with here at the C-Line?) I see a man who has lived a sheltered comfortable life of privilege. In the tale of the Buddha, he, like in-Curious G, lived a life of comfort and security until he wandered out one day and was confronted with the realities of life. It led him to leave his former life and spend the rest of his years pursuing relief for himself and his fellow man from the wheel of suffering and death. The story of the Christ has many parallels. There is a reason they're cherished as great leaders and visionaries. For many, they represent wisdom, compassion, sacrifice, and humanness. There stories reflect deep soul lines capable of carrying the tears of their fellow travelers. When they looked behind they were not alone.

I did not write this in anger. I do not hate George Bush. But I am very tired and weary from the rancor and divisiveness in our heartland. I love my country but I do not feel a need to proclaim it the best. I find it better to ask, what have we learned and what would make us better. I've been lucky enough to visit many parts of the world. It is full of great people. It's abundant with leaders. The Russian poet Yevtushenko once said, "There really are enough good people in the world, it's just that we don't have each other's phone numbers." As I have written this I have become more saddened for my nation. We have chosen poorly. We have no leader. We are utterly rudderless in a turbulent sea. But I am not without hope. Ultimately, it is the followers who decide who leads. If we understand what we need in our leaders we'll make better choices. If we look at actions and results rather than words we'll have all the "facts" we need to get better. If, instead of hardening ourselves, we let the rivers of suffering, sorrow, love, and hope etch deep soul lines within, we'll have greater capacity for compassion, forgiveness, peace and community. If we share our phone numbers we'll find each other and we'll find the leaders we need living right next door. We don't need The Decider. We need leadership, wherever we can find it.

Posted in


Anonymous (not verified) | May 3, 2007 - 1:43pm

Perhansa wrote:

I see a man who has lived a sheltered comfortable life of privilege. In the tale of the Buddha, he, like in-Curious G, lived a life of comfort and security until he wandered out one day and was confronted with the realities of life. It led him to leave his former life and spend the rest of his years pursuing relief for himself and his fellow man from the wheel of suffering and death.


Perhansa your statement above reminds me of something syndicated columnist Charley Reese wrote a while back:

The job of president ages most men, but Bush seems as healthy and content as a Georgia mule in a lush pasture. He's never admitted making a mistake. He has never held even one soul accountable for the intelligence failures or botching the Iraqi occupation. So far as he is concerned, he's the perfect man in the perfect job in a perfect world, just like the television commercial. In the meantime, the rest of us are stuck with going to Walgreens.

I would feel better if he would just occasionally look worried. Unfortunately, he's accomplished all he wanted to accomplish. He's won two elections, he's cut taxes for his rich friends, and he toppled Saddam Hussein. I don't know why he had such a grudge against old Saddam, but it's clear from books written by insiders than he was planning to go to war against Iraq almost from the day he took office. He seems to be the most self-satisfied president in history.


The way to watch our President is to turn down the sound and study his kinesthetic (body language). Truly he is an empty suit in some parallel universe to the reality known to everyone else.


susan | May 3, 2007 - 2:13pm

"The way to watch our President is to turn down the sound and study his kinesthetic (body language"

Well, I can not bear to watch him or hear him, but when I do happen to see him he looks awfully twitchy to me. But it feels more like a man who is jumpy because he's uncomfortable in his new suit, not a man who is burdend by awareness of the catastrophe he's presiding over, or anguished by the thousands of lives snuffed out under his callous and incompetent hand.


Perhansa (not verified) | May 3, 2007 - 4:14pm

That smug self-satisfaction is a good indication of a lack of "soul lines" the concept of which, I shamelessly stole from Mrs. Perhansa...

Your connection to this piece is right on. He seems to reside inside a bubble or, as you suggest, some alternative reality. But, if you're chosen by God to lead the new Israel through the greatest crisis the world as faced, I guess you believe you can do no wrong. The arrognace of his beliefs alone make me want to run out into the road screaming!


Poet (not verified) | May 4, 2007 - 2:00am

Perhansa observes:

But, if you're chosen by God to lead the new Israel through the greatest crisis the world as faced, I guess you believe you can do no wrong.


If that's what Shrub really thinks that, then whatever "god" is speaking to him had better have some awsome miracle or two (like the plagues or parting of the Red Sea) to validate the claim of his "prophet" (or would "profit" be more fitting?). Otherwise he is just a delusional fraud!


Perhansa (not verified) | May 4, 2007 - 6:56am

I'd like to see more people of "faith" stand up to this fraud. It seems obvious the "god" who speaks in George's ear isn't the same one who spoke to St. Francis or Julian of Norwich or St. John of the Cross or Mother Teresa. Far too many people have railed against the moderate Muslims for not speaking out agressively against the extremists, when are the Christian moderates going to come out of the closet and walk the talk against the likes of W, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Ted Haggard, Tim laHaye, etc. So far the only moderates I've heard are you, BIll Moyers, Bill McKibben, Jim Wallis, and your friend who wrote the book on american fascists--sorry his name eludes me. David James Duncan had a name for the likes of W and his "christian" ilk, he called them "soul molesters." I think that shoe fits.


paul miller (not verified) | May 4, 2007 - 8:25am

chris hedges - answer to previous question, actually George W. Bush is not a very good example of the Peter Principal, where people rise to level beyond their capabilities. W. would b over his head chairing a PTA meeting, the man has been a fraud from the get go - he has not risen to a level of incompetenancy he is incompentancy defined


paul miller (not verified) | May 4, 2007 - 9:08am

addendum to previous post - PM.1
MN voters keep in mind that our beloved TPaw said he would support the occupant if his approval ratings were at 5% (I think it was 5 that he said in the STRIB). We may very well get a chance to see if TPaw keeps that pledge ala Randy Kelly.


susan | May 4, 2007 - 11:03am

Ooo, thanks for the reminder on TPaw. Too bad we didn't send him the same stand-by-your-man defeat that the voters of St. Paul sent to Randy Kelly. Isn't TPaw now standing by McCain? Isn't he considered a VP contender?


paul miller (not verified) | May 4, 2007 - 12:33pm

how about a DFL commercial of a TPaw look alike in a Tammy Wynette wig (subtle Rudy Guiliani / GOP cross dressing refererencel) singing stand by your man?:


Perhansa (not verified) | May 5, 2007 - 7:27am

Your right Paul, I stand corrected (even if that makes me a flip-flopper). Incurious George is a F-up has always been a F-up and will go down in history as one of the biggest F-ups to inhabit the White House. That's the only thing he seems to be competent in. Sorry for the potty mouth.


paul miller (not verified) | May 6, 2007 - 8:44pm

desparate times call for desparate words, I. e. potty mouths. My use of the f word has grown exponentially in relationship to bush's crimes and I know I am not alone in this, by the way, maybe Woodward could write a new book, "Bush at 28% Approval Rating" -- where have all the suck ups gone, long time passing??


susan | May 6, 2007 - 11:41pm

Yesterday's suck-up is today's "Why I wasn't really sucking up" book author. If you haven't already, read Frank Rich in the Sunday NYTimes. If the link won't let you open the page, I'll paste it in.


pault (not verified) | May 7, 2007 - 8:00am

can't get the article, love Frank Rich...speaking of suck ups then and now, In "The One Percent Doctrine" the author says when Boy King didn't fire Tenet after 9/11, "At that point George Tenet would do anything his President asked. Anything. And George W. Bush knew it."


susan | May 7, 2007 - 11:24am

I'll paste it later tonight if you can't get it elsewhere. Crazy busy day.