LTI Session, to Explore Character in Leadership

By Julian, Larry S. | Nation's Cities Weekly, August 6, 2001 | Go to article overview

LTI Session, to Explore Character in Leadership


Julian, Larry S., Nation's Cities Weekly


Have you ever been in a situation where you had to choose between a bad situation and a worse situation? Have you ever been confronted with a dilemma that had no easy answer? If you answered, "yes" to these questions, you're not alone.

In December 1996, I presented a program at the NLC Leadership Institute on creating win-win partnerships with your constituency. In a room with over 250 rowdy participants, group members were identifying the issues and obstacles that hinder an elected official's effectiveness. What began as a simple exercise turned into a heated discussion and a laundry list of more than 20 obstacles including dealing with adversaries, hidden agendas, short-term pressure, and egos. Finally, I stopped the discussion. Turning to the center, I asked "With all of these issues and obstacles you face, why do you want to do what you do?" The room grew silent. Instead of having answers, the participants had more questions.

A significant insight resulted. Municipal leaders want to do the right thing but often succumb to the bottom line pressures that come with the position. We seem to be caught between two worlds. On one hand we value the principles of honesty, integrity, and community service. On the other hand, we struggle with the tremendous pressure created by short-term demands, personal agendas, and constant change. We seem to be caught between two opposing forces:

* Led by pressure vs. Led by principle

* Slave to the urgent vs. Freedom to choose

* Short-term gain vs. Long-term legacy

* Lead by promises vs. Lead by example

* The end justifies the means vs. The means justify the end

We often view this dilemma as an internal struggle between right and wrong. We seem to be presented with a disturbing choice: either embrace the reality of the bottom line and compromise our values, or live by our principles and accept whatever negative political consequences come our way. We are challenged by questions like, "Can I be ethical and successful?" and," Can I be a leader of character in a bottom-line world?" The answer is "Yes." However we have to ask ourselves some tough questions. What are the values and principles that define who I am or do political pressures define who I am? How do I define success?

Our character is defined, not just by how we answer those questions, but by the decisions we make every single day in the midst of pressure. …

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