Leadership wanting …

Years ago we labeled the producers of US-made automobiles and trucks as the Big 3 … Ford, Chrysler and GM. I have not heard that characterization for quite a while, probably because they share more of the market with German and Japanese makers. That business has changed in the last 25 years, influenced predominantly by new leadership, advanced by quality visionaries like W. Edwards Deming, Joseph M. Juran and Philip Crosby. During my engineering career segment, I attended sessions at the Crosby Quality College in San Francisco.   It was all the rage.  However, today we drive automobiles with much improved fuel economy, fewer emissions and mileage life easily exceeding 100,000 miles.  

I was struck by this image and its symbolism. Is it harsh to extrapolate a time-stamped image of a struggling industry as to the condition of national leadership?  To extrapolate a little further … perhaps a symbol of global leadership paradigms that lack the promise required for this century and beyond?

It struck me that the auto industry turnaround did not occur overnight, but at the heart of it was a universal “wanting” for a solution. This USPS mailbox struck me is symbolic of another “wanting”… and, that is, for the government to work. The headlines this week, of course, are all about the infrastructure “wanting” in light of the Amtrak derailing.  Respected Harvard business professor Elizabeth Moss Kanter’s new book Move is a call for transforming our public conveyances.  James R Hagerty’s WSJ review places the national blame on Washington DC gridlock. Sorry, that word is just another label for lack of leadership.

Much of the classic notions of leadership are centered on solutions from the top. Hence, perhaps, our premature handicapping of the 2016 White House contenders. It seems to me that preoccupation is like trying to fix the auto industry years ago by simply jumping on the Ford or GM “bandwagon”.

To make government work, leadership is required to communicate a new national will. Only then will leadership percolate up from the “bottom”, i.e., the citizens.  The difference today vis a vis our voting wisdom … actually globally … is the elevated transparency that unfiltered communication and the Internet gives all of us to understand the truth.

Consider, for a moment, that as a nation our public schools rank nowhere near the top 10 globally based on standardized tests … our infrastructure needs updating along with better stewardship of our planets resources … and our moral code-family values “want” a refresh.

Daunting? Yes, but why not a national vision or purpose to lead the      world …  a la JFK’s visionary space program, FDR’s post-depression World War II leadership example or Ronald Reagan’s passion for freedom over tyranny?

In each case, their passions … their TRUE North … rallied millions to their cause. And, in each case, success was achieved.

We may be at a similar juncture in our history, where clear compelling   national cause replaces competing constituency favors.

It’s a quality problem all over again … “wanting” a solution.

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