Friday, June 6, 2008

Brooks on Mature Leadership

David Brooks has rapidly become on of my favorite thinkers over the last couple years.

Today he published an essay in the New York Times in which he ponders the value of a leader truly coming to terms with his/her greatest weaknesses (before gaining power). He considers this idea through the lens of Abraham Lincoln's experience.

I recommend the entire short essay (it's here), but wanted to quote the end of it directly as I think it captures some true wisdom:’s not fair to compare anybody to Lincoln, but he does illustrate the repertoire of skills we look for in a leader. The central illusion of modern politics is that if only people as virtuous as “us” had power, then things would be better. Candidates get elected by telling people what they want to hear, leading them by using the sugar of their own fantasies.

Somehow a leader conversant with his own failings wouldn’t be as affected by the moral self-approval that afflicts most political movements. He’d be detached from his most fervid followers and merciful and understanding toward foes. He’d have a sense of his own smallness in the sweep of events. He or she would contravene Lord Acton’s dictum and grow sadder and wiser with more power.

All this suggests a maxim for us voters: Don’t only look to see which candidate has the most talent. Look for the one most emotionally gripped by his own failings.

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