A now deceased political acquaintance of mine often offered a definition of leadership as, “Seeing a parade and stepping in front of it.” This definition usually appeared when confronted with the limitations of leadership. It is clearly a definition that President Obama does not care for. It is a definition that Peggy Noonan holds to some extent in her column this weekend.
Being the contrarian that I am it is a definition that always makes me ask, “What do you do if the parade is headed in the wrong direction?” Do you stand behind the parade and yell, “NO! You’re going the wrong way?” Do you get in front of it and try to make it make a U-turn? Or maybe you get in front of it and take it on a long, circuitous course correction? Do you go start you own parade? Even if you are the only one marching? And then, of course, how do we decide what is the right and wrong direction?
But then return to the context in which the definition was usually presented to me. The point is that no matter what you do, the parade is not going to go anywhere it does not want to go – right or wrong notwithstanding. In that sense the person standing in front of the parade is more ceremonial than actually leading.
One of the things that makes the marching band scenes at the conclusion of “Animal House” so very funny is that no one in the band ever figures out they are being lead down a blind alley. Despite what some people think, most people are just not that dumb so we find it humorous when we see a large group acting like it.
If that scene had been portrayed realistically instead of for comic effect, someone in the band would have gone “Hey! Wait a minute…” and chaos would have ensued. Then there would have been a process where the other band members were convinced that the band was headed the wrong way and the person that noted they were headed in the wrong direction might very well have ended up leading the band back onto its course. And if not that individual, someone else better suited.
That, quite frankly is how I am approaching this election. Don’t get me wrong, we need a good person in front of the parade, but they are not going to make the parade change course. That is up to those of us in the body of the parade.
If you think about it, that is pretty much the Christmas message. Maybe you need to think about that the next time you are in a conversation about this election cycle. It is less important to convince your conversational partner who to vote vote than it is to make sure they know the right direction.