Editor's Page

Dec. 21, 2004
Questions of character

Judging by the volume of e-mail and faxes I've received since publication, I seem to have touched a nerve in a recent column on my wish list for a Presidential candidate ("Comparison shopping," Feb. 7). And while many readers disagreed with my contentions about the need for national health-care reform ("Please tell us that your 20-year-old child who majors in liberal arts at Berkeley wrote this editorial!") and tax reform ("The power to tax is the power to destroy. Need I say more?"), most were upset by my comments about the importance of character in a Presidential race. In case you missed it, this is what I wrote: No More Talk About Character: It'd be nice if we could have a president we could respect. But it's even more important to have one who can lead, even if he's a scoundrel or a womanizer or an SOB. So please just concentrate on the issues at hand. Most of the letter writers e-mailed to express their disbelief and displeasure that I would (they interpreted) separate character from leadership -- especially in the pages of a magazine devoted to leadership in manufacturing. Wrote one: "It seems you have higher standards for the person who owns a couple of service stations than you have for the President of the United States." And another: "There can be no separation of character from leadership if we are interested in some measure of success from the company for which we work or the country in which we live." I couldn't agree more -- about the importance of character in leadership. Indeed, no one who has ever studied management can doubt the role of character in creating successful leaders, cultures, and organizations. But my point wasn't about character -- it was about the cynical use of talk about character during this election cycle. Emboldened by voters' disgust with the personal failings of the current occupant of the White House, candidates and pundits alike are too often substituting sanctimonious talk about character -- theirs, yours, ours -- for talk about issues. Even worse is the effect all this Presidential palaver has on our definition of character, reducing it to an algebraic calculation of a person's flaws and attributes, his or her failings and repentances. History tells us that character has always been more complex than a ledger of personal debits and credits, including, among leaders in particular, a commitment to a future in which freedom and justice are more fairly distributed than they are today. That's why historians have no trouble distinguishing between the man's flaws and the leader's strengths for such diverse characters as Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and Martin Luther King. We voters should expect no less maturity of judgment from ourselves. Send e-mail messages to John Brandt at [email protected]

Popular Sponsored Recommendations

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of IndustryWeek, create an account today!