The host is fond of taking a “30,000 foot view.” It helps to get a big picture. Let’s move up higher still – to an orbital view. This week’s failure to accomplish anything whatsoever towards fixing Obamacare is going to be sliced and diced to death in the coming weeks, months, years and most assuredly throughout the election cycle of 2018. You can count on “guilt” for the failure to be pinned on everything from the three no-vote Republican Senators to the Majority Leader, to Republican sabotage of Obamacare to Sneaky deals by Obama himself to aliens landing somewhere. There will be truth in most of it, save maybe the aliens. From an orbital view, the failure while deeply disappointing, is not surprising.
As Larry Arn said on the host’s show during the election, “big things are afoot.” In this case the very nature of leadership, which includes political leadership, is changing under our feet. For quite a while now political leadership has meant getting a finger on what a majority of people want and then getting in front of that. Certainly in the case of Obamacare roughly equal numbers want it and do not want it. This fact alone makes what has become the traditional model for political leadership pretty hard to use. Absent a clear-cut majoritarian view there is nothing to get in front of. The host has this week been discussing government as if we were now more parliamentary, discussing three parties, liberals, conservatives, and what he is calling “the party of Trump.” The parliamentary idea of coalition building is helpful with the current circumstance, but I think the changes go even deeper.
More than a decade ago, the host wrote a book, “Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That’s Changing Your World.” While not necessarily his best work, it does contain a number of useful and informative ideas. It is easy to write the book off as passé since blogging was replaced by first Facebook and then Twitter at near the speed of light at which the electrons that carry all three forms travel. Blogging is not dead, but it is now more about the big publishers getting stuff out there without editorial oversight or printing delays than citizen journalism. But the ideas about citizen journalism remain quite alive in the newer platforms and they are at root what is changing leadership paradigms.
The key lies in the host’s use of the word “Reformation” in the title of that book – a direct reference to the earth-shattering events of the 16th and 17th centuries when printing was invented, literacy became much wider spread and Protestantism was born. During the Reformation the Roman Catholic church lost its monopolistic grip on western/European Christianity and it took roughly a hundred years for the shape of Christianity to stabilize in any meaningful fashion, even though it remains in relative turmoil when compared to the pre-Reformation time. These events can be viewed as a revolution created by the invention of movable type, but they can also be viewed as a failure of leadership on the part of the Roman Catholic Church.
Part of the job of leadership is to anticipate change and to create circumstances to adapt to and capitalize upon that change. The Roman Catholic church had relied for centuries on being literate in an essentially illiterate world. They failed to anticipate that when everyone could read the Bible, everyone would be come an amateur theologian; that they would lose the ability to dictate what people believed. Protestantism arose because it was a step closer to convincing people what to believe rather than telling them what to believe. Things stabilized in Christendom as those beliefs coalesced into a few stable schools of thought – a system that has served us until very recent times. (Christian leadership is currently undergoing the same sort of upheaval that political leadership is.)
The modern/digital era has created a circumstance wherein even schools of thought are hard to come by. The same forces that drove the Reformation have been set loose by digital technology at the speed of light and the means of control that were developed in the wake of the invention of movable type cannot keep up. Pretty much anybody with any cockamamie idea can find some sort of confirmation for that idea. The result is apparent chaos. And thus it is unsurprising that Congress was unable to move on Obamacare – as disappointing as that fact is.
But in that observation lies some keys to the new leadership paradigm. No longer can one build a coalition out of a few schools of thought. Now one must rely on personal charisma, since everyone has their own school of thought. Further, given that everyone has their own school of thought, appeals to people have to be far more individualized. The idea of what it means to be a political party is changing at blinding speeds. I am sure there are more keys to the new leadership paradigm, but these two have received confirmation in the form of Donald Trump.
The President’s incessant tweeting is a far more individualistic form of appeal than more traditional forms of campaign or presidential communication. People can respond to his tweets and while I doubt seriously he reads all the responses, it leaves the responder with the impression they are in conversation with the President. It feels like you are talking to the president – a privilege traditionally reserved only big money donors and the very powerful.
When it comes to personal charisma, whatever Donald Trump’s personality and temperament and regardless whether that is to your taste or not, he is “authentic.” That is to say on a personal level Trump is an open book. His life has been lived largely in public. He is not one thing in public and another privately. Authenticity is highly valued currently. What I have always thought of as simply civil, for example to not carry on publicly quite so vociferously as I would in private, is considered somehow disingenuous and therefore inauthentic. Scaramucci’s profanity filled tirade to Ryan Lizza, off-putting though I may find it, is of this form of authenticity. This authenticity is a form of charisma. It is much easier to work with someone when you know what you are dealing with, even if what you are dealing with is unpalatable.
My devotion this morning concerned what is taught about leadership in a passage from Psalm 78. The writer of that devotion said this:
At the core of leadership is the character of the person. The formation of that character is the most important and neglected aspect of leadership development today.
The public now views its political leadership as devoid of character, rightly or wrongly. “Authenticity” is one way of coping with that view. But in the end if we are going to stabilize things that view has to be changed and the only way of doing that is to be authentically of good character. Character is the source of ultimate personal charisma. In an age when everyone is their own school of thought, we can afford no less.