Saturday, July 30, 2016

Find a good listener and you will have found a good president

Cartoonist Scott Adams of Dilbert fame, raised a ruckus two days ago when he posted this on Twitter:

On first blush, someone reading that might think that Adams supports Donald Trump for president. Trump has no experience in either elected or appointed political office.

In fact though, Adams supports Hillary Clinton for president. He was simply making a point. He believes that political experience is unnecessary to be president.

As people who read this blog know, I don't give my personal political preferences. But I am a student of history, particularly of presidential history. I also study leadership. I've spent more than thirty years as a pastor, a servant leader in and from the Church. I've also spent countless hours over the years picking the brains of leaders, trying to learn all I could on the subject.

And here's what I think about Adams' thesis: He's right. "Experience," at least as we commonly think of it--as political experience, is irrelevant in a president.

By the way, I'm pretty sure that experience as a business leader or entrepreneur, per se, is irrelevant too. (Although many business leaders may be qualified for the presidency.) Most at the top of the heap in business are either system people or bulls in china shops. The system people are "don't rock the boaters" unlikely to initiate things that need initiating. The bulls in china shops know little about creating consensus, a central presidential skill, and are fairly proficient at causing unnecessary trouble.

Like Adams, I would argue that many different people of many different backgrounds could serve well as president, not just because they spend an hour under the tutelage of experts, as Adams argues, but more so because they possess character, empathy, decisiveness, wisdom, and a reasonable set of antennae telling them when to be a system person, when to be a bull in a china shop, and when to lead in other ways.  (The twentieth century presidents with the best, nearly faultless, leadership antennae were Franklin Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower.)

Scott Adams wrote on his blog yesterday to shore up his 140-character assertion on Twitter: is easy for a President of the United States to assign people to find the best advisors. The President isn’t making phone calls and interviewing experts all day. The President sees the experts who have already been vetted by several other experts...
And he concludes his post with this:
Experience is overrated. I say that in part because I live near Silicon Valley and watch inexperienced people changing the world every day. Smart matters. It matters a lot. Experience is often helpful, but it is also deeply overrated.
Hmmm. Smart matters. But, it's not all that matters. Remember that it was Kennedy's and Johnson's Best and Brightest who got us into the Vietnam quagmire, smart people who sent tens of thousands to their graves knowing that the war was unwinnable and pointless anyway. Smart without wisdom and "common sense" and, very importantly, an understanding of history, can be disastrous.

God revealed this through ancient King Solomon: "Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety" (Proverbs 11:14).

In the end, I think, great presidents are not only made by the great--almost impossible--events they must navigate as leaders, but also by the counselors to whom they choose to listen. Our best presidents listen to "an abundance of counselors" and then, decide who to listen to.

In that sense, as flippant as Scott Adams' tweet on this subject may have seemed two days ago, I think he's onto something. Listening to the right advisors is the most essential quality of a leader, including presidents. Find a good listener and you will have found a good president.

What do you think?

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

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