I finished Richard Nixon's Leaders. In this blog post, I'd like to highlight something that Nixon says on page 331. This occurs within the last chapter, in which Nixon discusses the characteristics of great leaders in the arena.
"He must also want the job, and he
must be willing to pay the price. There is a persistent myth that if
only a person is well enough qualified, the office will----or
should----somehow seek him. It will not, and it should not. The myth
of the 'reluctant candidate' was, for much of the intellectual world, a
part of Adlai Stevenson's attraction. But show me a reluctant candidate
and I will show you a losing candidate. A reluctant candidate will not
give a campaign the intensity of effort it requires, nor will he accept
the sacrifices leadership itself requires: the ruthless invasion of
privacy, the grueling schedule, the sting of unfair and often vicious
criticism, the cruel caricatures. Unless a person is prepared to accept
this and still be ready to pursue the job with passion, he is not going
to have the steel to stand it once he gets it."
Here are some thoughts:
Nixon says "he," but one should not take that to mean that Nixon thinks
that only men can be good leaders. Nixon talks about women leaders in
this book, namely, Golda Meier and Indira Gandhi. And, on pages
340-341, Nixon speculates about whether more women will be in leadership
roles in the future. He lauds Clare Booth Luce's
political abilities and says that "she would have turned in a stellar
performance" had Dwight Eisenhower chosen her as his Vice-President
rather than Nixon. And Nixon forecasts that, before the end of the
twentieth century, the United States "will probably elect a woman to the
vice presidency and possibly to the presidency." That didn't happen,
but it still could happen in the twenty-first century. Look at all the
women governors in the United States!
2. Nixon makes good points
about the problems of the reluctant candidate, and I would say that his
points can apply to the reluctant leader, as well: that one has to want
an office seriously in order to throw oneself into its responsibilities
and to take a lot of bull without giving up. After reading this passage
by Nixon, I can sympathize more with Toby Ziegler's angry reluctance to
support Democratic candidate Matt Santos for President in the
television series, The West Wing: Josh Lyman had to go to Texas and beg Santos to run, and Toby did not think that spoke well on Santos' part!
is something attractive about the reluctant candidate, though: that
reluctant candidates are humble and are not power-hungry, that they have
small-time roots, that they have talents that they may not recognize
but that others can see, etc. In the Bible, there are a lot of
reluctant candidates. Gideon does not want to lead Israel against the
Midianites, but that gives God a chance to show God's power. Saul is
reluctant to be king. David has his share of political skills and is
able to form important friendships, while fighting the enemies of
Israel. But the text goes out of its way to present David as someone
who was not ambitious: the kingship just fell into his lap. By
contrast, it seems to me that those who crave power in the Bible are the
ones you wouldn't want to exercise it: Abimelech agreed to be king, and
he was likened to a thornbush (Judges 9).
On the other hand,
perhaps some of the reluctant candidates in the Bible were not right for
the job----in that their reluctance was a hindrance to them. Saul was
reluctant to be king, and he disobeyed God because he feared the people,
and somehow his insignificance in his own eyes kept him from grasping
the gravity of his office and performing what God considered to be
Saul's duties (I Samuel 13; 15:17).
I agree with Nixon that one
has to want an office in order to be a good leader. At the same time, I
don't think that everyone who craves power deserves it. Moreover, I
believe that even a reluctant candidate can surprise us, as long as the
reluctant candidate becomes willing to be in the game for the long haul.
Nixon in his last chapter seems to argue that a good leader is one who
is impressive to people. He has a point, for a leader needs to impress
people to get them to follow him. At the same time, Nixon does describe
a wide variety of leaders. Some are reserved, but others are
outgoing. Some work long hours, while others sleep in or take naps.
Some are powerful and charismatic speakers, while others are more
cerebral (without getting overly theoretical that it stands in the way
of practicality) or are good at forming coalitions. There are arguably a
variety of ways to impress people. Charisma is one way, but showing
people that one has what it takes to do the job (even if one doesn't
have the flashiest personality in the world) is another way.
Three cheers for the eternal torture chamber!
48 minutes ago