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Can political leaders accomplish admirable social goals or useful political changes if they are, at times, less than perfect individuals?

I’ve run into this idea before, not just regarding President Donald Trump, who some reject not simply because they disagree with his policy perspectives but because they feel he is not a nice person, or they believe he hurts or otherwise defames others or entire groups of people with his words, or they simply do not like him.

This piece is not about pro or anti President Trump.  You can make that determination on your own.  This is a think-aloud-consideration about human beings who become leaders.

One reason this is not per se about President Trump is that if you’ve lived awhile, you realize he is not the only political leader who is or was flawed or, at times, a jerk.  In the American context alone, we’ve had some doozies.  FDR, admired by millions for helping stand in the face of Nazism, had a mistress in his youth, may have had others later, and was with his first mistress when he died. 

JFK is by now known to have been an incorrigible womanizer, including during his presidency.  Yet JFK stood up to the USSR’s Kruschev during the Cuban Missile Crisis in a manner that is yet studied in the military as well as leadership studies in general.  He is admired for his vision for the American space program that eventually put men on the moon.

LBJ was a known shamelessly and maybe obnoxiously flirt or perhaps to sexually harass women, but another great failure was the way he treated people in general.  He was arrogant and boorish and imperial to say the least.  But LBJ helped pass the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, two enormously important pieces of legislation that changed the American social fabric.

Richard Nixon said, “I am not a crook,” but well, Watergate proved otherwise.  But Nixon ended the military draft, opened China to diplomacy, signed the Paris peace accords ending the Viet Nam War, and more.

Bill Clinton will forever be known for saying, “I did not have sexual relationships with that woman,” even though he did have encounters in the White House with intern Monica Lewinsky.  He lied under oath, was impeached, and barely stayed in office.  But he presided over a long economic expansion, paid down on the national debt, enjoyed a “peace dividend,” passed NAFTA, and helped end ethnic cleansing in the Balkans.

You run into this leadership character issue, too, with race politics today, wherein some groups wish to disavow any recognition of Thomas Jefferson because he owned slaves (something that has perplexed many historians), even while he wrote some of the most important human liberty and human rights documents in history.  Or the groups that want to remove Andrew Jackson from the $20 bill because he treated Indians pretty much like unwanted cattle or worse (The Trail of Tears), which he did.  Yet he helped America win the War of 1812, and he strengthened the national government, helped resolve the Nullification Crisis, and ushered in an era of common man democracy.

Rev Dr Martin Luther King, Jr was apparently a womanizer in private, yet he earned a Nobel Prize and helped awaken a nation to its open secret in ongoing discrimination against Black citizens.  King, flaws and all, clearly should be honored for his nonviolent civil rights work and lasting legacy seeking a color-blind society.

The list could go on. The point is not to overlook the wrong-doing or character flaws or outright sin in leaders’ lives, but to acknowledge that no individual, therefore no leader, is perfect, and if perfect defines leader then we have to stop with Jesus Christ.

Even King David, the great psalmist who solidified the nation of Israel in Old Testament times, and who was called a “man after God’s own heart” put himself in a position of moral failure that had to be called out by Nathan, one of God’s prophets.

This is not to excuse leaders or to give them a free pass to be a jerk or pursue immoral behaviors at will.  It’s simply to recognize that even flawed human beings can indeed accomplish good or even great things at given points of their experience.

It’s a lesson, too, that one should not be over-awed by any leader, i.e. one’s favorite leader of the moment who seems to represent your hopes and dreams so well, because he or she too is only human.  He or she can fail and if you put your full faith and trust in a person, you are vulnerable to disappointment, and so is your philosophy or policy perspectives or movement.

It’s a reminder, too, to not promote “your side” leaders in a manner that states or suggests that somehow he or she is better than the candidate or leader on the “other side.”  Why?  Because as noted, your side leader may fail, and even if not, time passes, your side will be out of power and the other side will be in, and the other side will put forth leaders who accomplish good things perhaps while being less-than-admirable people.

Finally, recognizing that leaders who are not good people can indeed do good things is a reminder that it’s possible to support and appreciate the “good things” while at the same time holding the leader accountable to a higher standard of personal behavior.  Because I think a leader is a jerk does not mean everything he or she does is ipso facto unworthy, or in reverse, because I think a leader is doing good things does not mean that he or she gets a pass to be a jerk.

Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2018   

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Pope Francis is garnering early accolades for his perceived humility, which, oddly, reminds me of President Jimmy Carter.

Pope Francis’s humble heart, observers say, was quickly demonstrated by his decision to eschew a limousine for a shuttle bus ride with the cardinals, his choice to carry his own luggage, and the fact he settled his own lodging bill. All this, people believe, is evidence of Pope Francis’s authenticity, his man-of-the-people persona.

When Jimmy Carter ran for President in 1976 he was frequently photographed carrying his own suit bag. After the election, he continued this practice, suspended the traditional playing of “Hail to the Chief,” and conducted fireside chats dressed in cardigan sweaters. He also greatly reduced the perks of the White House staff and sold two presidential yachts. All this was to counter the so-called “Imperial Presidency” of both Richard M. Nixon and Lyndon Baines Johnson.

What’s more than interesting about this story is that it wasn’t long before President Carter stopped carrying his bags and discarded the cardigans. And “Hail to the Chief” made a comeback too, in part because Carter’s decision to stop the Marine Band from playing the song caused a public outcry, and in part because Carter needed it. As his presidency progressed from one crisis to the next—Iran Hostages, Afghanistan, Inflation—“Malaise”—Panama Canal—the Carter Administration was increasingly considered a failure, or at best embarrassingly inept. What to do? Ditch the humility symbols and get back to pomp and ceremony in an effort to restore an aura of power and effectiveness.

Some papacy observers within and without the Catholic Church hope Pope Francis’s early actions on “small matters” signal a change of philosophy and perhaps approach to management that will hold church bureaucrats accountable and refocus the mission of the church on the needs of the poor, the marginalized, and the lost. So the Pope-of-hope is under heavy expectation and scrutiny right out of the gate.

Though I am not Catholic I wish Pope Francis I well because he is in a position that could do a world of good for many needy people. He’s in a position that could move the church toward compassion, accountability, and justice in the priest sex scandals. He could rework the Vatican’s financial fiascos toward some transparency and accountability. He is in a position of leadership.

If the Pope’s actions on these “small matters” are indeed evidence of a humble heart, as opposed to Mr. Carter’s imagery, than there’s genuine hope the Pope’s eventual actions on “large matters” will point in the right, and righteous, direction.


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2013

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at or follow him at

Italian cruise captain Francesco Schettino apparently deviated off course as a favor to his headwaiter. Then he came too close to land and allowed his cruise ship, Costa Concordia, to run aground with 4200 passengers on board.

Bad scene. Some 11 people are dead and, with more missing, the potential for the count to increase still remains.

If this isn’t bad enough, we learn the captain abandoned his ship while passengers, perhaps several hundred, remained in danger on board. The Italian Coast Guard reached him somehow by phone, leaving a recording of the wayward captain arguing plaintively with the Coast Guard official’s order to get back on board, now, and help the passengers. Add to this, scores of passengers’ stories of utter chaos along with a crew that variously tried to help or themselves abandoned ship and you have an amazing failure of leadership.

We don’t yet know the whole truth about what happened on this cruise ship. Nor do we know why the captain acted in such an un-captain-like manner. But it’s obvious to anyone who’s paid attention. This is an example of how not to lead.

The best leaders lead. They assume and maintain responsibility. They act ethically, morally, and conscientiously to the extent of their knowledge and ability--and sometimes beyond. They are stewards who think constantly about the people, resources, and mission entrusted to them.

Captains, so the old sea-going saying has it, go down with the ship. This isn’t an irrational death wish. It’s a leader’s honor.


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2012

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at or follow him at

We know that good people do good things and bad people do bad things. That’s common sense based on experience born out everyday.

So it seems logical to say that leaders with good character will be successful, will choose and achieve (good) goals, and in the end leave positive legacies. It seems equally a no-brainer to conclude that leaders with bad character will be unsuccessful, will choose bad goals, likely will not achieve them, and in the end leave negative legacies.

But reality is not so simple. Truth be told, sometimes leaders evidencing good, even exemplary, character do not choose wisely, do not achieve, are not successful, and leave tarnished legacies. Meanwhile, strange as it may seem, leaders who are “bad people” back and accomplish good goals and eventually leave their leadership role lauded for success.

FDR apparently conducted at least one affair until the day he died; yet he is regarded as one of America’s great presidents. JFK apparently “carried on” in the White House in more ways than one, including with Marilyn Monroe; yet he is remembered for his vision and for his strength in staring down Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

LBJ was a womanizer, and he was arrogant and crude. But LBJ helped enact both the Civil Rights and the Voting Rights Acts of the mid-1960s, changing race relations for the better at long last and forever. Nixon campaigned as the “Law and Order” candidate, than orchestrated a break-in and cover-up precipitating a constitutional crisis. Finally, the law and order man resigned in disgrace.

Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush are clearly men of deep and abiding Christian faith. They are men of good character. But both, though accomplishing some things, walked away from what many consider failed presidencies.

So people of lesser character sometimes accomplish good to great things and people of higher character sometimes accomplish very little or even falter or fail. Hmmm. Why?

Character is still a predictor. It’s just not alone in its influence. Too many other variables are at work to isolate on character (which the Right and which religious voters tend to do) and use it as our one and only assessment of a leader’s potential.

Another reason character is not in itself a predictor is that leaders are not “all good” or “all bad.” All human beings are made in the image of God; yet all possess a sin nature. We are capable of nobility and ignobility. We are an enigmatic mix of good and evil and, under pressure, in the wrong moment, who knows what will come out?

In addition, to state the obvious, God is sovereign. He works in mysterious ways. The heart of the king is in his hand and God turns it wither he will. Sometimes what we call lack of success or utter failure fits within the plan of God. Sometimes he allows leaders with bad character to flourish, and sometimes God allows leaders of good will to endure hardship. Why? Only God knows.

So it’s possible that a would-be president with multiple divorces and affairs on his record just might turn out to be a good leader. It’s equally possible that a would-be president with an exemplary reputation just might turn out to be a poor president. It’s hard to tell based on our finite assessments of their perceived character—and that’s another consideration: “perceived” character is not always “actual” character. Things are not always what they seem.

Don’t get me wrong. Character matters. But using it as a predictor of leadership success is just not as easy as we might wish.


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2012

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at or follow him at

Kirk Cousins is the next Tim Tebow. In all the good ways—what media people now call “intangibles”—Cousins, like Tebow, evidences a consistently outstanding character rooted in overtly and regularly expressed Christian faith, superior leadership skills, team spirit, and personal maturity.

Kirk Cousins is Michigan State University’s graduating quarterback. Today he led his team to victory in a three-overtime win over the University of Georgia in the 2012 Outback Bowl. During his football career at MSU Cousins won more games than any quarterback in program history, and he goes out a winner in every way conceivable. In today’s nationally televised performance he put himself on the map.

“Intangibles” is the word ESPN commentator Jon Gruden uses to refer to Kirk Cousins as in “His intangibles are off the charts,” and NBC “Sunday Night Football’s” Al Michaels uses to describe Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow’s on and off-field character, as well as his ability to lead.

“Intangibles” means all the things you can’t really measure, things other than athleticism or football knowledge, experience, and skill. For success in a football career, especially as a quarterback, possessing the capacity to lead is critical. Personal character is a bonus. Intangibles.

Tim Tebow is a leader, whatever you think of his passing skills. He’s also what he seems and claims to be, a young man who lives his Christian faith and walks the walk. His attitude and his actions say, “Good role model.”

Kirk Cousins has done the same thing since his secondary years at Holland Christian in Holland, Michigan, and throughout his years at MSU. Cousins lives his Christian values openly but not offensively. He is a leader with the ability and desire to motivate those around him. He praises team members, speaks articulately about higher standards and brings to whatever he does a great work ethic and never-give-up attitude—all quite Tebow-like.

In what may be the worst year for collegiate sports in many a decade (scandals at Penn State, Syracuse, Miami, Ohio State and more), Cousins is a bright light of hope.

Kirk Cousins says he’s going to give the NFL a try. I hope he does. We need more of his ilk in professional sports. I wish he and Tim Tebow well.


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2012

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at or follow him at

Our times are turbulent. Technology has given us a “think globally, act locally” public square that brings the world to our doorstep. It’s a time that desperately needs leaders.

“Postmodernity” is the ten dollar word scholars use to describe our times. It’s a term referencing the global culture that emerged in the late Twentieth Century and continues today. Actually, postmodernity is both a period of time and a belief system, both of which are characterized by “moral relativism” (meaning people believe that truth cannot be defined or known, so neither can “right” or “wrong” be identified). It’s also a time characterized by extroverted sensuality, consumer choice among an infinite variety of options—including spirituality—and a sense of “living in the now.”

Postmodern men and women are able to do what’s right in their own eyes. And “what’s right” can literally be a construct of our own imagination. So one person’s determination of “What’s right” means nothing to the rest of us. We live in the now.

This sounds attractive, in part, because we’re all “closet libertarians.” We want to do what we want to do without interference. We want to follow our own self-generated rules for living. We sing along with Frank Sinatra, “I’ll do it my way."

But this free wheeling emotional, social, economic, and political landscape is the very thing that causes people to feel uncertain, confused, anxious, and afraid. It’s the cultural condition that creates people’s hunger for leaders who can make sense of it all.

Religion doesn’t seem to help much. Either religion has sold out to consumerism, offering schlock products rather than faith and wisdom principles for real life. Or religion is imploding on its own lack of confidence, no longer sure of its foundations or its vision for a better tomorrow. Of course if there is no truth, who cares what religion says anyway?

But therein is the problem. The idea that truth doesn’t exist is a satanic lie. If we’re deluded by this idea than maybe we’ll forget that God is, that he is sovereign over world affairs, and that He has a plan for us.

The “problem of our times” is also the “opportunity of our times” as leaders. The more volatile the times, the more leaders can more quickly make a difference. Like Theodore Roosevelt, who chose to address and alter the problems of his day, great leaders step up.

Postmodern times need leaders like Jesus, who—“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). Our turbulent times need what might be called “shepherd leaders.”

Shepherd leaders know all their sheep—their abilities, their needs, their unique challenges. Shepherd leaders know their environment and the threats within it. They know where they’re going and why, and they know what their sheep need to do to be productive and successful.

Perhaps this analogy tends to break down, for not all followers are like sheep, nor are followers simply passive and leaders the absolute masters of their flocks. But there are still principles to glean.

Our postmodern times have deeply unsettled our culture, our country, and our colleagues, friends, and neighbors. Leaders with genuine Christian faith and hope, leaders who genuinely care about others, and leaders who genuinely give of themselves can bless their organizations and their communities with moral imagination, courage, and clarity. These leaders do not depend upon religion but upon a relationship with Christ. These leaders are compassionate, visionary, energetic, and true. They know that their confidence and their competence come from the Lord. These leaders trust Christ and are therefore able to be trustworthy. They believe in truth, so they speak truthfully. These leaders step up to the challenges and opportunities of turbulent times.


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at or follow him at