Friday, August 29, 2008

Business vs. Political Leaders

Lately I've been pondering the relationship between perceptions and expectations of business and political leaders and how those perceptions and expectations are reflected -- or shaped by -- political polling. I haven't performed an exhaustive study of recent polling and media coverage, but for the sake of debate I'm going to assert some generalizations:

1) When assessing what makes a great business leader, general media often focuses on how such leaders are brilliant, daring, and visionary. There is an inherent assumption of keen intellect, knowledge, and expertise; how would the leader otherwise ascended to their position if lacking fundamental skill? Also assumed and unstated is that great leaders have the respect of their employees, and that such respect is based on the leader's competency, skills, and strategic vision. The leader may also be amiable, but usually that is not the basis for employee's respect.

2) We all are familiar with how political leaders have often been assessed, at least in recent years: media and polling firms lead us to believe that the most important factors to voters are that a President "shares my values", "understands people like me" or the infamous "most fun to have a beer with."

Richard Hofstader and many others have observed this dichotomy: highly intelligent business leaders are hailed, while highly intelligent political leaders are derided as "eggheads". Now we have a candidate who combines a great intellect and knowledge of the world with a compelling vision. So, what will it take for pollsters and the general media to stop asking and discussing such infantile and inane topics? Perhaps I'm the only one, but I want a President who knows things that matter, like the difference between shia and sunni; I could care less whether he would be an agreeable drinking companion.

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