Where are the Leaders?

Michael Moss
Michael Moss
Michael Moss was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting in 2010, and was a finalist for the prize in 2006 and 1999. He is also the recipient of a Loeb Award and an Overseas Press Club citation. Before coming to the Times, he was a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, New York Newsday, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. | Photo: Columbia University | Michael Moss, Pulitzer Prize , Reporter, Writer, Journalist,

Failure to lead on every level - the solution is simple.

You see it everywhere you look. It's starting to blend into the landscape and it's getting more and more difficult to recognize ' camouflaged by lofty titles, cloaked in its ubiquity. We see nation states intentionally murdering its citizens, or incessant bickering while the nation's economy teeters on a precipice. Multi-billion dollar, multinational corporations that value profits over human lives; exploiting horrid conditions and lax regulations in third world countries to increase profit margins. City and state governments on the verge of bankruptcy make haphazard attempts to balance budgets on the backs of children and public sector workers. Local Boy Scout troops blaming all its woes on one thirteen year old boy, despite a history of weak enforcement of policy for years. And finally, a kid brings home bad grades, parents are furiously inquiring why the kid has such disgraceful ' to the teacher, not the kid.

Did you catch the common thread? Weaving malevolently throughout global culture from top to bottom, across the world - a dearth of leadership. It's becoming such a common occurrence that I fear that our younger generations think that this is the way it's supposed to be. This is all they've seen all their lives. They see their politicians fall by the wayside with the regularity of the seasons, all the while the manufactured crisis's they leave behind sit like ticking bombs waiting the be "discovered" by another "leader" to swoop in and save the public from the looming disaster that would have never happened. They see the adults in their life make selfish decisions taking only into account how their decisions affect their immediate situations. I fear we've lost a generation.

World Stage It's easy to say the United States' leaders have lost sight of what they were sent to Washington for, but to say they have lost sight insinuates that they can find their way back. I'm worried that it may be more dire than that. These elected leaders are choosing to behave in ways that they know to be improper, and if they are aware that their behavior is improper and yet continue in such fashion, then they lack the moral bearing to want to self-correct. Their only concern is "what's in it for me?" Although it may not have started out that way, it seems to evolve into that at some point along the way. Our leaders aren't leading, they're following ' their own vices.

Middle-eastern monarchies and dictatorships try mightily to hold on to the reins of power in this age of information, an age when 87 percent of the world's 7 billion inhabitants has access to other cultures, other societies, all readily accessible in their hip pocket. Knowledge and information is power; despots have no hope of bridling that power. It takes true leadership to harness that kind of power and use it to better the lives of all. Hosni Mubarak, Muammar Gaddafi and Bashar al-Assad all found out the hard way. Some monarchs have taken heed to the "Arab Spring" of 2011 and its implications. King Abdullah of Jordan for example, has exhibited sound leadership in navigating the politics of a tumultuous region with chaos and unrest on all sides. It's only a matter of time before the Ahmadinejad and the Ayatollah Khamenei face real challenges maintaining control in Iran.

Corporate World Large corporations exploit slave labor and even child slave labor, when outsourcing production. It's not that they hate children; they just love money. The concealed nature of these actions provide companies a level of depersonalization that allows it to continue without much desire to intervene ' out of sight, out of mind. I recently read an article that named major multinational companies, some with household names like Philip Morris and Victoria's Secret, all which admitted to using slave labor in third world countries. It's unacceptable for the leadership in these companies to find this in accordance with the values of the organization, all in the name of shareholder profits. By no means do I advocate isolationism, but Americans are hungry for jobs right here at home, corporate leadership could be the motive force behind solving at least these two problems: ending slave labor in third world countries, and bringing home low skill jobs back to the U.S. to help build our workforce from the middle out.

I recently read an article in Time magazine featuring Pulitzer Prize winning, New York Times investigative reporter ?. In his new book, Salt Sugar Fat, he exposes the $1 trillion processed food industry's concerted and targeted efforts to "hit the magical formulation." He gives an example with sugar, "The optimum amount of sugar in a product became known as the "bliss point." Food inventors and scientists spend a huge amount of time formulating the perfect amount of sugar that will send us over the moon, and send products flying off the shelves". In effect, they are intentionally addicting Americans to everything that is bad for them. Of course, personal leadership comes into play here - "just don't buy it", right? Well it's not that easy for the less fortunate among us.

The result is childhood diabetes; 1 in every 3 American children is obese; and at our current rate, half of all Americans will be obese in a decade. The tangential effects are higher healthcare costs; a military starved of its greatest resource (able-bodied young Americans); and a whole host of other detriments.
Perhaps it's too much to ask corporate leaders to be responsible members of their communities. That's a concept I learned in undergraduate studies ' business ethics (I know, I know, it's an oxy-moron).

Local Government Detroit ' Motorcity, home of Motown is considering bankruptcy. It's not all the current mayor's fault, its systemic failures in leadership over a long period of time. From 1.5M to just under 700K, Detroit has lost over half of its citizens in less than a decade. Detroit will soon join Stockton, CA; Bridgeport, CN; Vallejo, CA, Harrisburg, PA; Prichard, AL; Central Falls, RI; and Desert Hot Springs, CA ' all large cities that have filed bankruptcy in recent history. Who's to blame for this? I guess "it just happened", right? Wrong! People allow these failures to happen with poor leadership. In every case of the cities listed above, there were occurrences of maleficence, corruption, etc. You know what else was common throughout those cities? Sub-par school systems and public services. David Gergen, Harvard professor and CNN political analyst once said, "If a leader has integrity, nothing else matters. If a leader doesn't have integrity, nothing else matters." These cities, their states, and our country will feel the effects of these failures for generations to come. Proper stewardship of the people's trust, wellbeing and wealth is sacred and should be guarded jealously.

In Your Backyard Our son is a Boy Scout and recently my wife told me about one of the adult meetings in regards to policy and procedures for the troop. As she's telling me how the meeting quickly spun out of control and descended to a group of "responsible" adults figuratively ganging up on one troubled youth because apparently, he's the impetus of all that's bad and wrong with the troop. The overwhelming consensus was to expel the youth from the troop, casting all protocols of discipline and proper order to the side. I'm proud to say that my wife was strong enough to defend the boy, but more importantly, to defend proper protocol. I'm even prouder that she was able to point out to them their hypocrisy with the example of poor leadership that they display and the unrealistic expectations that a child would follow anything else. As she was recounting the story, all I could think of was how I wished the leaders of that troop would lead and stop abdicating all authority to one 13 year old kid. The tragedy of this situation is all of the lost opportunities to build great leaders in an organization that espouses building great leaders.

I recently saw a graphic on one of the popular social media outlets that displayed a side by side picture of a child, parents, and a teacher in the Sixties, and in current day. In the days of yore the parents held up a report card strewn with "F's" and angrily demanded that the child "explain these grades!". In current times, attire and room has been updated but the same players fill the frame except this time the ire is directed at the teacher while the child looks on with a devilish grin. This depiction is sadly, very accurate for this day and age. What would have made the graphic even more accurate is if the mother was the lone parent in the scene. Our households are missing so many things nowadays, but one key ingredient is LEADERSHIP ' it all starts at home. All of the examples above could have been mitigated or at least the effects lessened if the leaders of the situations had a strong foundation. Now, that's a very broad statement because it would be impossible to narrow down all that is wrong to the childhoods of just a few individuals, but I can guarantee you that with more conscientious and thoughtful leaders in more situations improve the chances of success for those situations.

So, What Do We Do? It's simple to say but very hard to do ' just lead. Lead yourself, lead your friends, and lead your family. If you don't like to lead out front, then lead by being a great follower. Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby, says "The first follower is actually an underestimated form of leadership in itself' the first follower is what transforms a lone nut into a leader." A leader cannot lead without followers. By virtue of being alive, you are already part of the leadership-followership continuum. The next step is to be courageous enough to lead, or even more so, be courageous enough to be the first follower.

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Updated Aug 12, 2017 12:10 PM EDT | More details


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