September 30, 2008

Where's the Leadership?

I'm sure you all remember the Wendy's commercials from the 80s with the old woman asking "Where's the beef?" If she were still alive today seeing what's happening on Capitol Hill, she'd likely be asking "Where's the Leadership?"

I know, I know... This blog has mainly focused on association topics in the past. Don't worry, I'll tie this post back to associations at the end...

Back to leadership... In watching this whole "bailout" episode unfold, I have had a number of questions... How in the world did we get to this point in the first place? How in the world did the Secretary of the Treasury do such a BAD job in communicating about the plan to Congress and the American people to get consensus? How could Congress not understand that there is a big problem, and without swift action, there could be major economic issues?

I guess my answer to all of these questions is that there is a tremendous lack of leadership in Washington - from all parties. At the beginning of Congress getting involved, each and every one of them said that politics would be put aside and that a deal would get done. I don't believe that ever happened. In fact, immediately after the bill failed yesterday in the House, rather than getting back into a room to work on negotiating a new bill, each side went on television and blamed the other for the bill's failure. That's not leadership.

Then, with an economic crisis looming, the Congress took time off to go back to their districts for the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah. No offense to all of my Jewish friends, but our leaders should not have left. Heck, I would expect my leaders to be in session even on Christmas if an economic crisis like this was looming. It's not about what holiday it is, it's about being leaders and making something work to avoid what many people are calling a disaster.

I also find it interesting that the bill failed one day before they all were heading back to their districts, where they will likely campaign (since many Congressmen are up for re-election.) Those who voted against it could tell their constituents that they were listening to them, and that they should be re-elected. Those who voted for it can talk about how they were trying to do what's right for America in getting something passed, even though it's not the ideal bill... Using this bill as leverage in their re-election campaigns is not leadership.

Don't forget about the Secretary of the Treasury, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, the current President, and the Presidential candidates... Their lack of leadership also helped to get to where we are today. Paulson and Bernanke failed to convince the Congress that this was the right thing to do by showing them how this will not only affect Wall Street, but also Main Street. They also failed to put provisions within the bill to account for that. Our current president has been nearly mute throughout this, aside from his two or three speeches that he has made. Lastly, the Presidential candidates have both said that Congress needs to get something done. Guess what Obama and McCain? YOU ARE IN CONGRESS!! Go back and be the leaders that you're going to need to be when one of you becomes the president-elect in a little over 35 days!

Ok, so now I'm tying this back to associations... I think that we as association leaders need to realize that we need to be able to do a lot of things well - consensus-building, communicating, persuading, working when it's necessary, etc. In addition, we need to realize that something that is proposed might not be perfect, but if it is something that needs to get done to avoid a crisis, we need to have the guts to act. There are leadership lessons to be learned in this whole "bailout" situation, and if we as association leaders don't think about and understand them, our Boards might just step in and say, "Where's the Leadership?" and we'll be out the door...

Am I wrong on this? What do you think?

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