I can’t count the number of times I said those words when I worked in large corporations. I can’t count the number of times I sat in a coaching session with someone struggling to move up the corporate ladder, trying to explain the difference between a manager – even an exceptional manager – and a leader.
Here’s the thing: organizations need both. Managers – good, skilled managers – are absolutely essential to the health and ongoing success of any organization (and the U.S. is one huge organization in dire need of exceptional management skills, for sure). But leadership, that almost intangible ability to envision how a successful future will look, to communicate that picture over and over again so others can see it and taste it and feel it and (most importantly) to motivate people and convince them to pull together in order to work towards that future – well, that’s leadership, not management. A truly extraordinary leader hires talented managers without the need to micromanage them. A true leader knows how to trust.
I turned sixty in December 2007 (astounding though that seems to me, since I still feel a LOT younger inside). I’ve been politically aware and off-and-on active for over forty of those years. When Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon was one of only two members of that prestigious body to vote against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964 (I was still in high school at the time), I wrote a letter thanking him for his courage. At the time, I lived in Philadelphia, and Oregon was one of those big states out west that I figured I’d never see; who knew I’d find myself lucky enough to live in Portland forty years later? Since that time, I’ve listened to more motivational speeches than I can remember, much less count. But not one of them ever moved me the way Barack Obama’s speech in Philadelphia on March 18th did. I sat here at my desk in our home, watching the video on Obama’s web site and listening carefully to every word. When he was finished speaking, I realized that this man embodied everything I thought a leader needed – including something I didn’t list in the paragraph above – integrity.
Hillary Clinton is a brilliant woman whose talents should neither be denied nor discounted. She strikes me as one of the most competent and effective managers I've ever seen in action, and that's saying a lot. However...
There hasn’t been a time in my life when this country was more in need of a real leader, someone who (in my husband’s words) can present both a literal and figurative face to the people of our country and the rest of the world that the United States is more than just a place where wealthy white men live and prosper. I absolutely believe Barack Obama is that man.