29 July 2010


By Andy Weddington
Friday, 30 July 2010

"There is nothing noble about being superior to some other man. The true nobility is in being superior to your previous self." Hindustani proverb

Last week, as is typical, a number of personal notes rolled in responding to the Commentary. One from a longtime friend--who is usually quiet--and who's opinion I value. He simply wrote, "Your best!" If you knew him, not one to be trapped by paradigm, you'd better understand and appreciate the significance of his two words--a remark not casually thrown around.

Another, now posted to the Commentary site, was from "Mary C."; as far as I know, a stranger to me. Her note read, "This post has caused some stirring in me. I've always wanted to lead, and now, even more so, I realize that in order to be a great leader, I have to be a great servant..."

I thanked my friend and offered similar notes come in from week to week as life's filters, unique to each, drive emotions, and Commentaries strike different chords with different folks. That said, the value of his reaction held in high regard.

As to Mary C. I say, followership and leadership are inextricably linked. There is no more powerful influence than example; leading or following, but especially when in front. It is that simple. And it is that difficult. Look no further than raising children. Yes, Mary C., great leaders are first great servants and remain so thereby foregoing the need to occasionally glance over their shoulder.

This week's Commentary was well underway when early Wednesday morning I stumbled on a photograph that abruptly caused me to shelve the light-hearted topic and again address leadership.

In the early days of writing this Commentary I attracted a reader by the name of Bruce; who somehow stumbled on my site and has remained a faithful reader. He posted a note back in June offering that "ROSE GARDENS--PROMISED AND OTHERWISE--THEIR BLOSSOMS DIFFER" was one of the best. Again, a different set of filters and chords struck.

I've mentioned Bruce in the past. As a reminder, he's a retired New York City police officer. Had the dice of life settled differently he may have been a Marine; he came close. He is not, but friends with many Marines and a big friend of the Corps.

It was while perusing Bruce's site early Wednesday morning I stumbled on the photograph, of our president,  posted left. It raises some questions.

From an objective perspective...

What does it say about how the president was raised? What does it say about what the president thinks of himself? What does it say about what the president thinks about those whom carry out his direction? What does it say about the president's respect for history? What does it say about the president's understanding of and appreciation for decorum? What does it say about the president's perception and understanding of being presidential? What does it say about the White House, with all its gatekeepers and screeners, permitting such a photograph to be taken? Much less released? What does it say about leadership?

The desk--known as the "Resolute Desk"--has a rich history linking the United States and Great Britain. It was gifted by Queen Victoria to President Rutherford B. Hayes on Tuesday, 23 November 1880. A snapshot of the bond between the two countries can be deduced from the brass plate inscription centered at the top on the side of the desk on which the president sits. It reads as follows:

"H.M.S. RESOLUTE forming part of the expedition sent in search of Sir John Franklin in1852, was abandoned in latitude 74 degrees 41 minutes N longitude 101 degrees 22 minutes W on 15th May 1854. She was discovered and extricated in September 1855 in latitude 67 degrees N by Captain Buddington of the United States Whaler GEORGE HENRY.

The ship was purchased, fitted out and sent to England as a gift to Her Majesty Queen Victoria by the President and People of the United States as a token of goodwill and friendship. This table was made from her timbers when she was broken up, and is presented by the Queen of Great Britain to the President of the United States as a memorial of the courtesy and loving kindness which dictated the offer of the gift of the RESOLUTE."

Bruce's site--http://brucesplace.net/Wordpress/  is a conservative watchdog that exposes political nonsense and forewarns "PC Not Spoken Here." As to the photo, following a short review about pubic housing, there's a bit about the desk's history and a straight-talk directive anyone not raised in a barn would appreciate. "It is considered a national treasure and icon of the presidency. Mr. Obama, with all due respect, get your F@k#n feet off our desk!"

That's one way to put it. With the message clear. Along the lines of what mother would say; less the colorful word. And yet there are deeper considerations.

Body language experts interpret a plethora of non-verbal communication postures as a means of portraying confidence, marking territory, and establishing dominance (animals simply urinate on trees or maybe a leg and sometimes a leg on a piece of furniture). And that unconscious body language speaks far louder than the spoken word. Placing feet upon one's desk is one. But is it necessary--by the President of the United States? In the Oval Office? Anywhere?

President Reagan sat behind the Resolute Desk. Can you imagine him, who had such great respect for the office of the presidency that he would not enter the Oval Office without his jacket on, with his feet propped up on the desk and kicked back speaking with key advisors? Uh, no. Admittedly, our sitting president, with feet on desk, is at the lower end of the spectrum of inappropriate decorum while gracing the most powerful room on the planet when considering a predecessors's tendency to doff trousers and fire up cigars in a, no matter how you want to look at it, no-smoking area.

In past Commentaries there's been mention of simplicity leading to complexity and that leadership, though complex, is based on simplicity; it begins and ends by means of example.

What kind of example is the president setting? And what is the public to make of this example? 

A Marine for nearly three full decades not once did a commanding officer who, when holding meetings--sitdowns or standups-- in their office, ever posture rule over territory or exhibit superiority by propping their feet atop the desk. They didn't have to--there was never any question as to whom was in charge. To do so would have compromised authority; not strengthened it. And without question eroded respect; a delicate condition that once lost is not recoverable.

As went the example set, so was the example set. Pretty simple. Elementary. Yet, complex.

Our president, for whatever his brilliance--and that is increasingly coming under scrutiny, and oratory skills, seems to suffer from a lack of the most elemental aspects of leadership. And with that observation, as blunt as it may be (and offensive to some though such is not intended), it's difficult to refute. For feet atop the desk is merely one example. Look to last week's Commentary for more significant ones. And there are more still.

To those who hastily wave off the president's behavior ala shooing away a pesky gnat. Not so fast. Yes, little things matter. Tend to them and the big things take care of themselves.

And as for our president--as a man, as a president, as a gentleman, as a leader--a couple of thoughts come to mind.

Both thoughts coming to my attention, in recent months, through a friend. Thoughts that played a big part in his father's life--as a boy, as a man, as a Marine, as a leader, as a gentleman, and as a father--raising a son.

The first, from William Wordsworth's poem 'The Rainbow.' The line, "The Child is Father of the Man." Think about it.

And the second, a guiding philosophy offered to his young teenage son (who some eight or nine years later would himself earn the title, Marine), "In all things, be a gentleman."

Follow in the president's footsteps? No. For his example--in the small things and the big things--is one not in step with that taught to and expected of Marines; that is, "officers eat last" leadership. It is that simple.

Maybe feet on the desk and that metaphoric angle works for the president. But it's not working for anyone else. Add amateur demeanor to policies not to the majority's liking and credible job approval polls continue to sink. Thus, perhaps it's time for the president to consider tending to the little things. For starters, keeping both feet grounded, and apply the concept to everything he does. It sure can't hurt. Though his faithful hold hope, there's little likelihood of seeing any change. For it appears the foundation necessary for developing mature, gentlemanly leadership was not ingrained in him when a child. And that is too bad for the man.

Post Script

The Rainbow

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began,
So is it now I am a man,
So be it when I shall grow old
Or let me die!
The Child is Father of the Man:
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety  William Wordsworth (1770-1850)


Unknown said...

I have hundreds of Dad stories but one that comes to mind today is his "you will never know how to lead until you learn to follow". Wonderful advice from a very smart man and role model.

Tom H. said...

Arrogance, versus humility. Situational ethics, versus integrity. Direspect versus reverence. What a difference between this persident and his predecessor.