Blunders of Past Leaders are Ignored by Obama

Our political leaders, especially the President, badly need a refresher course on successful leader behavior.  I have been disturbed by the appearance of Obama trying to please everyone he meets, foreign heads of state in particular.  History has consistently shown that strong, dignified leaders earn the respect of their followers and peers while achieving success in their organization goals.  Barak Obama appears to be oblivious to this fact as he continues to exude narcissistic behavior and blunder through his tenure as president, seemingly to never be cognizant of the blunders of his predecessors.

The point is clearly noted in Michael Ledeen’s (2000) Machiavelli on Modern Leadership:   

Among other blunders, they invariably give the wrong answer to one of Machiavelli’s basic questions:  Is it better to be more loved than feared, or more feared than loved?  Western leaders from John Major and Bill Clinton to Newt Gingrich, Silvio Berlusconi, and Benjamin Netanyahu have desperately sought love from both friends and foes, to the ruin of their domestic and international enterprises.  Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Lee Kwan Yu, Bill Gates, and Pope Paul II knew better, and reshaped the world. (P. xiv)

In addition to this excellent point, there are other observations Machiavelli posits that apply to the President and his close retinue:

When it comes to international affairs the bare bones fact are: 

  • Our challengers, whether a new team in a sport’s league, Japanese companies making cheaper and better automobiles, the Russian leaders, or a Middle-Eastern government, “. . .will not be charmed by sweet reasonableness, for they seek domination over us.  If you’re going to be a leader, you must make a simple choice:  either dominate or be dominated. (p. 16.)
  • “Worse still, when you find a leader who acts [in these ways], you can be sure that he’s making other big mistakes as well, because the proper use of power is such a central ingredient in any good organization.” (p. 31)


Ledeen, M.A. (2000). Machiavelli on Modern Leadership: Why Machiavelli’s iron rules are as timely and important today as five centuries ago. St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2000.

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Can Success be Achieved Without Vision

I believe people can succeed without vision but it appears to be a phenomenon of achieving success in spite of themselves rather than because of themselves. At IBM, Unisys, and the Navy I associated with people whose goal was to satisfy the minimum requirements necessary to complete their job assignment and not make a mistake during the process. In this regard, these people were successful but they rarely received promotions or earned lucrative financial compensation. Colleagues that had a clear vision to illuminate their goals, however, performed the same job functions but achieved much greater success, abundant financial rewards, and frequent promotions.

Now long ago I read an article by Clemmer (2003) in which he compared goals and vision as follows: 

Goals Vision
Appeal to our intellect Engages our emotions
Results and timeframes A desired future state
Builds a business case Kindles a cause
Rational Intuitive
Pushes performance Inspires and aligns
Targets and objectives Images and feelings
Solves problems Imagines possibilities
Logical progression Irrational “skyhooks”
Written Verbal

Goals are logical and vision is emotional. Goals, therefore, can exist without vision, enabling a person or organization to achieve a level of measurabl success but when these goals are “supercharged” with the emotion of vision, outstanding success can be the result. For example, if a person’s goal is to simply satiate their hunger, they can eat raw food until fulfilled. If their goal is coupled with the vision of a warm, well prepared, flavorable meal the results will probably be very different. The same goal is achieved but the quality of the solution is markedly different.

Clemmer, J. (2003). The Leader’s Digest: Timeless Principles for Team and Organization Success. Kitchener, ON: TCG Press

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Substituting Obama for Carter

Recently, I was reading a compilation of Ayn Rand’s responses to questions submitted after she made various presentations.  As I read the following response from a 1976 lecture, I was struck by the similarities between Jimmy Carter’s presidential victory and Obama’s administration (Mayhew, 2005, p.70).  It is rather darkly amusing to re-read Rand’s response while substituting the word “Obama” for “Carter”:

As for Carter’s victory:  The next four years will probably be hell, and I dread to think in what form.  I’ve heard people say. “I’m glad to be old,” and I join them in feeling it.  I’m glad I won’t have to see too much of the kind of world Carter will make. But you are young enough not to want that unspeakable, cheap, small-town peanut power luster ruling your life. He’s already talking about looking forward to flying in Air Force One.  That’s a man who says he has a vision for rebuilding America.  The contempt for people that he shows something totally new in American politics.  He doesn’t believe people can remember his statements from day-to-day, and so he can lie, sit on every fence, and nobody will notice.  If his party holds him in check, while bowing and treating him like an emperor, they can lead him by the nose. Carter is all touchy, cheap vanity.  He’ the kind of man who will do something out of sheer stubbornness, if he thinks Congress has offended him. But if they flatter him, he’ll probably prevent the country from collapsing.

It’s hard to tell what to look for in Carter’s administration; I don’t think he knows. He’s been on both sides of every key issue.  He’ll probably be most dangerous about spending, for example, the make-work programs.  Rising inflation will result, which I hope we can survive.

Mayhew, Edward, ed. Ayn Rand Answers: the best of her Q&A. Penguin Books, Ltd. London, 2005.  ISBN 978-0-451-21665-6.

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