The Unbearable Insecurity of our Leaders

 That many politicians are walking paradoxes of narcissism and arrogance mixed with emotional fragility and insecurity is certainly no epiphany. Our former President offers textbook writers the perfect model for the havoc that a man-child with power can wreak.

 Like many traits/foibles/idiosyncrasies, however, there are far more similarities than we might like to admit about many in power – notwithstanding their political ideologies.

 The Governor of Washington state has earned accolades for his management of a once-in-a-lifetime (hopefully) crisis with his handling of the Pandemic. He is also considered a national leader on the existential crisis of our time, climate change. But this is also the same Governor who believes that if he were to fire an appointee for mal-or misfeasance, or just because they might not be a good fit for the job, it would reflect badly on him because he appointed that person.

 For at least 40 years, Tribal leaders, scientists, state agency experts, environmentalists, and people who love the Pacific Northwest and the Salish Sea have been advocating for protection for the salmon and orcas as we watch their numbers become a mere shadow of what they once were. As a result of a few leaders who have an innate desire to leave our state better than when we found it, and the (mostly) others who are doing what they believe is the political right thing, because poll after poll indicates voter’s desire for protection of the ecosystem, the state (and Fed) has spent billions to save salmon since 1980.

 The thing is though, in addition to the fact that many indicators are actually worse now than in 1980, the legislature and the executive branch (controlled by any of the six Governors) have been seemingly uninterested in really learning what works and what doesn’t. Likely because they are afraid of what “failure” means about them, they are loathed to ever do a “lessons learned”.

 Not only is the willingness to evolve, learn from mistakes and failures, be genuinely interested in actually addressing an issue rather than just simply being sure to look like they are, indicators of maturity and leadership – it could not be more necessary and indispensable in the public sector than anywhere else. If the widget makers refuse to learn, change, and adapt, well too bad for the widget users. When government leaders refuse to “learn in public”, admit mistakes, and be constantly willing to adapt and change, it is all of us who suffer.

 I remember when the Gates Foundation, maybe three of four years old, conducted, then publicly released a report on their own efforts to support small schools. All the rage within education circles at the time, the Gates Foundation spent hundreds of millions of dollars to create and promote smaller schools especially at the high school level. I listened on the radio to a report on the “lessons learned” report they released. Turns out it was a good idea, well-intentioned, but a colossally ineffective expenditure of their money. They decided, because of this examination, initiated by them, that they were ending the program right there and then.

 We need mature and confidant leadership, especially when we are confronted by multiple crises (many of our own making). We need leaders who are not afraid of saying to us “I tried this because I believed it was the best course to pursue, but I now know that what I tried didn’t work as I hoped…and I have learned from that effort and we are adjusting and changing course. The end goal is the same. We just will get there using a different path.”

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By Russ Lehman

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