Leadership: Itʻs Debatable

Tonight, President Obama and Candidate Romney will publicly debate on prime-time TV. What should we look for, if weʻre looking for good leadership qualities?

1. Listen closely, and observe which debater dodges what question: according to NPR today, viewers tend to notice ONLY when the answer is really at odds with the question, because we tend to forget the question and judge on personability and social readings rather than intellectual and political measures. A leader committed to sustainable solutions will look squarely at the problems we face. 

2. Debate is, according to Fox News, is “high-risk theatre.” So, in the spirit of Greek classical theatre, consider the debate a performance, not of the real men, but the men they hope to become. Notice the public persona – the mask – of each candidate. Like what you see? See any cracks? What good deeds do they dramatize or exaggerate? What do they do when theyʻre cornered? We need to observe how, if, and when they attack each other — and try to get beyond our preferred politics to see if the attacks are justified or just insubstantial smokescreens. Imagine these political actors are exactly that — actors! We may never get to see the men behind the masks clearly — so letʻs se if their performances show leadership qualities. A charismatic leader knows how to persuade. Not all charismatic leaders are good leaders, though — so pay attention to the mask (and its backstage track record). Donʻt be seduced by your own hopes and biases.

3. Pay attention to the quality of the questions as well. What are we asking of our leaders? In the Nation, Greg Kaufmann asks 13 Questions about Poverty. I wonder if any of them will get asked? Are our core questions getting asked, much less answered? If not, then weʻre not holding the candidates to perhaps the most important quality of a leader — having courageous followers. Be a courageous follower — find out what you need to know before you vote.

So much spin, so little time….

One comment

  1. that is a wonderful guide for how to watch a debate. I will review it for the next one.


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