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I written before that I believe one of President George W. Bush’s greatest liabilities is his under developed communication skills. He may possess the right values on many issues, or at least in terms of his desire to do right and do well by the American people and his office. But he just can’t sell his ideas, much less defend his actions.

I believe his second greatest liability as a leader is his seeming unwillingness to admit it when he makes a mistake. While at times he may be admirably resolute, as many more times he is questionably inflexible. He’s not simply confident but possibly stubborn and loyal to a fault. What else can possibly explain the President’s expression of “full support” once again this week for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld? Whatever your politics on the War in Iraq, you have to recognize by now that if President Bush is known for doggedly staying his course, Rumsfeld is a major leaguer in this category.

Rumsfeld’s leadership style is arrogant, imperial, condescending if not demeaning, argumentative, and bellicose. Americans who have watched him the past several years can see this and six retired generals weighed in this week with comparable observations. Why can’t President Bush see it? Or admit it? And if he does know it, as his advisors say that he does, and as I must believe that he does, than why does he persist in his support for a man who has come to embody much of what’s gone wrong with Iraq? Unless President Bush can’t own a mistake or make a course correction.

Six retired generals do not a conclusion make. But surely their comments this week must make us think. These are men taught from their teens to say, “Yes sir,” or “No sir.” The stars on their shoulders attest to their ability to follow and execute orders. These are not rabble rousers, uninformed blokes in a bar, academic liberals, or the front lines of a loyal opposition in another political party. These are military men speaking to military issues, and to a man they question the nature and quality of leadership directing America’s commitment in Iraq.

I’m not suggesting the United States should simply pull out of Iraq. For good rationale or maybe not so good rationale, we’re there, and we must see this through to some kind of stability. But I wonder if Rumsfeld can get us there.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

Aristotle once said, "Anyone can become angry. That is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way -- that is not easy." Aristotle got it right.

But my experience suggests that most people are not as particular as Aristotle about how they become angry, what they become angry about, or whether they’re aiming their anger—or criticism—at the right person in the right way.

I’ve said for years that you can’t be in leadership for longer than ten minutes without being criticized. Leaders always attract both more kudos and more blame than they deserve. Criticism is part of the reason Harry Truman said, “If you can’t stand the heat stay out of the kitchen.”

But the kitchen is getting hotter. What seems to be changing is the intensity of criticism. People don’t just criticize. They criticize even relatively minor actions of leaders at a level of emotional and rhetorical intensity that is at times startling in its rancor. This is true whether you are a nationally recognized leader like the President of the United States or you are a leader in your church, community, or local organization.

My experience teaches me that when people disagree with a leader’s decision or action some respond by asking questions and expressing concern. These people are looking for understanding and resolution, not self-righteous victory. But these people are dwindling in number.

My experience also suggests that an alarmingly increasing number of people who become upset with a leader’s decision respond in one of the following ways:

They make assumptions, do not check their facts, and respond in a manner that has the leader tried, found guilty, and preferably “executed” before he or she is given an opportunity to answer the criticism.

  • They use emotionally loaded terms, even invective.
  • They question not simply the merits of a decision or action; they question the integrity, motives, and character of the leader.
  • They do not ask questions; they attack.
  • They demonstrate an incredible level of cynicism or outright distrust toward leaders and toward organizations.
  • They assume leaders make decisions or take actions wholly driven by self-interest and without regard for others or what might be considered objectively and morally right or best.

I realize this list paints a rather dark picture. But I’ve read too many letters, notes, or emails and participated in too many calls or even direct conversations characterized by one or more elements of this list.

I believe the increasing emotional and rhetorical intensity I see in criticism is rooted in the moral breakdown of culture. People do not trust anyone anymore because they’ve been “burned” by family members who’ve abandoned, abused, or otherwise rejected them. People believe others always lie because they’ve often been lied to. Too many people react angrily because they do not know how else to react.

The solution to this problem is obvious but not easy to implement. Our culture and in turn each one of us needs a spiritual revival. We need to understand that “God is love” so that we can love others. We need to know that God will forgive us so that we may forgive others, seasoning our speech with longsuffering, hope, and trust.

I cannot be responsible for everyone else’s behavior, but I certainly am responsible for my own. I can learn to receive and give criticism in a manner that honors God.

By no means am I perfect and by no means have I always responded properly to others with whom I’ve disagreed. But as a pattern I think I have learned to proceed carefully, check my facts, ask questions, and treat the other with respect. If after all this I still disagree than I can at least disagree agreeably.

I tell people never to respond “in kind,” never put in print what will shame you if it makes the newspapers, and never attack. I’ve learned to offer constructive criticism, and I’m hoping to help others to learn the same. How to criticize is, ironically perhaps, one of the lessons I’ve learned in leadership.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

The Crystal Cathedral’s recent investiture of Robert H. Schuller’s son, Robert A. Schuller, as pastor of the Crystal Cathedral is the latest in a series of similar family leadership successions in Christian ministries.

Bob Jones followed Bob Jones who followed Bob Jones as the president of Bob Jones University. Richard Roberts followed his father as president of Oral Roberts University and associated ministries. Franklin Graham inherited his father Billy Graham’s leadership of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and affiliated ministries. John Osteen went to his reward and his at-first reluctant but now phenomenally successful son Joel Osteen followed his father to the leadership of Lakewood Church in Houston. Gordon Robertson is apparently heir apparent of his father Pat Robertson at CBN in Virginia Beach. Somewhat distinct from the others yet a similar story is Andy Stanley’s founding of North Point Community Church across town from his father Charles Stanley’s longtime ministry at First Baptist Church of Atlanta.

Sons and daughters have long followed their parents into “the family business”—it even happens in politics—think George H. and George W. Bush. But a Christian ministry is not a family business, particularly when the sons typically possess very different skills than their fathers and may evidence very different levels of spiritual commitment or maturity.

I’m not suggesting there is necessarily something unbiblical or otherwise unwise about these successions. But I do find them interesting. I’ve wondered what discussions have taken place about the son’s sense of calling, what motivates the son to take the reins, and what constituents think about the appropriateness of the choice versus others that could have been made. I’ve wondered what a famous name, family features, and sometimes a similar tone of voice or mannerisms have to do with the ability to lead a Christian organization for the Lord’s service.

That said, I think the Graham transition has been especially strong and effective. Franklin possesses an “edge” that Billy did not evidence, which provides a voice I think our culture needs. I appreciate him. All in all, these successions may indeed be God’s best. Clearly it is these families’ and organizations’ responsibility, not mine. I wonder about it, but I wish them well.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

Leadership and optimism go hand in hand. At least that’s what surveys and experience repeatedly indicate. Del Jones’ review in today’s edition of “USA Today” of recent surveys, CEO commentary, and scholarship found that leaders were more optimistic than others about almost everything at work. He quotes leadership guru, Warren Bennis, saying, “Optimism is all about possibilities, change, hope. Without those qualities, how can any leaders succeed?” General Dwight D. Eisenhower would have agreed.

In his excellent work, Eisenhower:  Soldier and President, late historian Stephen E. Ambrose noted that General Eisenhower saw two advantages in maintaining a cheerful and hopeful attitude when he spoke to his troops, one, the “habit tends to minimize potentialities within the individual himself to become demoralized,” two, it “has a most extraordinary effect upon all with whom he comes in contact. With this clear realization, I firmly determined that my mannerisms and speech in public would always reflect the cheerful certainty of victory—that any pessimism and discouragement I might ever feel would be reserved for my pillow. I adopted a policy of circulating through the whole force to the full limit imposed by physical considerations. I did my best to meet everyone from general to private with a smile, a pat on the back, and a definite interest in his problems.”

From a Christian perspective, optimism is a product of hope. In my book, Christian Liberty:  Living for God in a Changing Culture, I talked at some length about optimism and hope:

"A hope is only as good as its foundation or focus. Christian hope—a confident expectation of fulfillment—is based upon an objective source of divine personality, strength, and power in Jesus Christ.  It is not, therefore, a vain, irrationally conceived, frivolous human wish but a rational confidence in something real. Christian hope rests upon truth revealed in Christ, truth experienced in the Christian life, and truth expected in the coming of Christ's kingdom.

Christian hope operates between the extremes of fatalism on the one hand and utopianism on the other. Modernity's mentality was dominated by naturalistic humanism, optimistically espousing permanent growth and well-being in a secular leap of faith. Postmodernity, on the other hand, is witness to a new, desperate, if not nihilistic mentality that is uncertain about the future, technology, or life itself. The modern mentality dreamed of progress. The postmodern mentality has given way to pessimism, even panic. Neither Mod nor PoMo culture has an answer for death. A Christian hope rejects both positions as unwarranted and unbiblical extremes.

In the words of a popular Christian song, “because Christ lives, we may face tomorrow.” Our hope is grounded in a person of the Godhead and in an already accomplished historical event: Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. The promise of our deliverance in time and ultimate reconciliation with Christ in heaven is sure. We may believe and, therefore, we may have hope.

Certainly a Christian can neither be an unqualified optimist nor an unqualified pessimist. Philosophic humanists generally embrace one extreme or the other, because they have no basis as Christians do for intellectually assimilating both good and evil. Christians should be optimistic though not with the irrational faith of the evolutionary theorist or the blind faith of Western culture in the idea of progress. Neither should any Christian ever be a pessimist. Pessimism is reserved for those who have not hope.

A Christian's optimism must be tempered by realism. The world and humanity are fallen and cursed. Evil continues, abated only by the restraining power of the Holy Spirit and God’s common grace. All of us are sinners in need of redemption. And realism serves as a warning against temptations to triumphalism. Humility, not bravado, must characterize the Christian hope. Christians should be both optimistic and realistic, or “optimistic realists.”

As optimistic realists with a well-developed Christian worldview, Christians should evidence humble hope and confidence in a culture that no longer believes either one is possible. If we do this, our lives become books with a message our neighbors can read, one that points them to the Way, the Truth, and the Life."

Hope produces resolve in the face of obstacles and resiliency in the wake of troubles, all of which are indispensable characteristics for a leader.

Christian leaders above all should be hopeful people, men and women who inspire their followers to do great things for God in an age hungry for real leadership, real ethics, and real hope.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2005

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

Theodore Roosevelt personified the word active if not also proactive. From his sickly youth he lived his life to the fullest, as though he wanted to extract from it every ounce of possibility.

At 42, he became and still is the youngest President of the United States ever elected. But he was ready. Coming to power upon the death of the assassinated William McKinley, “T.R.,” as he was called, never looked back. The 26th President strode the world stage by “speaking softly and carrying a big stick” and by stating forthrightly that the United States of America must be a force to be reckoned by any nation with designs on American territory or interests.

Roosevelt placed more acreage in conservatory protection than all other presidents combined. In doing so he initiated the environmental movement at work today. His vision of a water passageway connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans was realized in the construction of the Panama Canal, which he visited and inspected personally. He fought monopolies, he lived honestly, he lived big, he won re-election, and he made the fatal political mistake of saying he would not seek a second full term, a statement he lived to regret.

Later in life he also regretted the high view of military glory that he had lived first as a “Rough Rider” hero in the Spanish American War and later in his attitude and philosophy as a father and president. He regretted it because, though he proudly saw his sons adopt his views and go into battle, he and the family suffered the devastating loss of son Quentin who was shot down in Europe during WWI. T.R. did not live to see his eldest son, Theodore, become a brigadier general, land with the troops at Normandy on D-Day, and posthumously receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, but T.R. would have burst with pride. Still, T.R. learned that the glories of war fade quickly in the loss of life closely held. It’s a lesson all Commanders-in-chief should learn.

In addition to his political accomplishments, “Teddy,” this namesake of the Teddy Bear, learned to speak two or three other languages, extensively catalogued birds and other phenomena in his amateur-though-exceptional work as a naturalist, traveled the world hunting big game animals, charted unexplored rivers, and wrote voluminously.

Counting all of his articles and books, T.R. is by far the most published president. Jimmy Carter’s recently published twentieth book is rivaling him, but T.R. still holds the record in total production.

Theodore Roosevelt is still today an excellent model for leadership. He had vision, he communicated it with considerable energy and passion, he liked new ideas and progress, he had a zest for life and people (his favorite, oft-repeated word was, “Delighted!”), his work and exercise ethic were legendary, he openly lived and was faithful to his wife and family, he was a man of integrity, and he was proactive. He got things done.

Roosevelt died too young at age 60. His last words were to ask a care-giver to turn out the light and that night the lights went out on a truly extraordinary life.

Roosevelt and leadership are synonymous. He was always thinking about what he could do next to advance American interests or to advance whatever field of endeavor in which he found himself. His most quoted comment makes this point:

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."

Through March 5, 2006, the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan is exhibiting “Theodore Roosevelt: A Singular Life.” The exhibit is not large, but it features a number of interesting artifacts from the man’s life and offers a glimpse of the power of his passion and personality. I visited this exhibit yesterday, so I can say from personal experience that for anyone interested in leadership, politics, or history, the exhibit is well worth your time.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2005

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

To the question, “Why is support for President George W. Bush’s performance declining in the polls?” one might reasonably be expected to respond: “Because people disagree with his policies.” And, of course, this answer would be correct. But like the infomercials say, “But wait! There’s more.” President Bush is struggling to maintain the focus and support of the American people in part because of the limited range of his communications skills.

Unlike Ronald Reagan who could make people cry or wave the flag simply by reading the phone book, and unlike Bill Clinton who possesses not only exceptional speaking skills but also the gift of empathy—“I feel your pain”—President Bush just can’t find the right tone, the right cadence, or the right sound-bite. At least in the public forum and in front of crowds and cameras, a turn-of-phrase just does not come easily to him. Add to this his Texas posture and movement that seem to suggest a cocky swagger (In a light moment of self-deprecating defense Bush said, “In Texas we call it walking”). Add to this his grin and his laugh that appear and sound like a smirk, and you have the recipe for a communications-challenged leader.

In some sense the man can’t help it, and I feel his pain. So what that his walk seems like a strut and his words seemed clipped and strained? Why does it matter that his grin/laugh reminds us of the young fraternity party boy at Yale? Because this is the media age. Because the presidency, the “bully pulpit,” demands gravitas. A pulpit needs a preacher, one who shares the good word par excellence. The leader of the free world must be able to speak the King’s English, an American version to be sure, but nevertheless be able to articulate ideas and decisions and the rationale for both.

At this point in his life, Bush cannot change his grin/laugh, and is highly unlikely to change his stance and manner of walking, but he might be able to do a better job of communicating. It’s not like he’s never risen to the occasion. Remember his speech to both Houses of Congress right after 9-11? Masterful.

How does he improve his communication and, thus, his leadership? One, return to the themes closest to his heart, the ideals that took him to the Oval Office, values he has pondered and shared throughout most of his adult life. This step will not only put him on familiar ground, it will reignite his passion for why he does what he does. The War on Terrorism may be defining his presidency, but it should not be all that defines George W. Bush.

Two, change his venues. Stop speaking almost exclusively on military bases with soldiers as a backdrop. He should take his ideas to the American people by connecting with everyday Americans, not just those who are duty bound to say, “Yes sir.” Three, own his mistakes. Somehow, someway, about something, actually assume responsibility and say “I’m sorry.” The American people are amazingly forgiving—except of those who are too arrogant or ignorant to express contrition (Think, Pete Rose). Four, be himself, be human, not just the invincible Commander-in-Chief. Be someone to whom the American people can relate.

President Bush yet has time to re-energize his leadership before he and the First Lady take that last flight on Marine One around the capital before heading home to Crawford as “just a citizen.” His effectiveness as a leader, and his legacy, are directly tied to whether he can learn to communicate better with those he wants to follow.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2005

This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.com.