Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Decision Points: A Postmortem on the Bush Presidency

In the last week it has been difficult to turn on the television with out seeing former President Bush. With the recent release of his memoir Decision Points, a storm of media attention has been rehashing the Bush presidency and the decisions that he made. While watching the media coverage I could not help but to think about whether or not the release of this memoir will affect the public opinion of President Bush. Will the fact that Bush admits to mistakes help his reputation, or will it simply remind the public of the controversial leader he was?

In recent interviews with members of the media Bush has been forced to address many of the decisions that defined his presidency. He had to look back on the "Mission Accomplished" speech, his ineffectiveness during Hurricane Katrina, and his leading of our nation into a war with Iraq based on unfounded evidence. I found Bush to be remarkably candid about many of the mistakes he made. As he admitted that the aforementioned moments were times of regret and professional shortcomings. I think in many cases to hear a politician or former politician admit that he made a mistake is a breath of fresh air. Hindsight is always 20/20, and whether or not you agree or disagree with the decisions that Bush made during his presidency I think we can all agree that being the President is not easy. No matter if your a democrat or a republican as President be prepared to take criticism for every decision you make, because few decisions make everyone happy.

After addressing the book and the mistakes that Bush has now faced publicly; I'd like to now look at Bush as a leader. I do not think that Bush is going to ever be described by many as a charismatic or visionary leader. He never seemed to have the ability to eloquently activate the American people. Past and present leaders, such as MLK and President Obama, have displayed much more charismatic qualities. And while Bush most likely had a vision for the country I feel like he failed to, as Sashkin would say, "Tap in to the needs of the followers" (Sashkin). He certainly tapped into the hopes and needs of some, but never came close to addressing the needs of all. I also feel it is important for the President to be a servant leader to the people, and I am not sure that Bush fit this role either. His detachment during Hurricane Katrina, whether intentional or not, will forever be an example of his inability to connect with and serve all of his constituents. From this we can argue that what drove Bush was not the, "valuing and developing of people" (Greenleaf).

If classifying Bush as a leader is necessary I would have to lean towards him being a reactionary or opportunistic leader. If we look at the decisions that defined Bush as a president they were all in reaction to major challenges. Bush had the challenges of September 11th, Hurricane Katrina, and Iraq to face throughout his presidency. And many years from now it will be his reactions to these challenges that will be his legacy. The decision to invade Iraq has to be one of the clearest examples of opportunistic leadership to date. Iraq had persistently been an issue and a concern of our government, and after September 11th the "War on Terrorism" opened a door to take care of Iraq. During this time Bush took advantage of the nations' response to terrorism and countries that posed a threat to national security. Here he fits Selznick's description of an opportunist as someone who, "pursues the immediate short run advantages in a way inadequately controlled by considerations of principle and ultimate consequence" (Selznick). We are still living with and attempting to control the consequences of that decision.

Being President is obviously a difficult job, and Bush has stated that, unfortunately as President you don't have the luxury of doing things over again. I wonder now:

In the aftermath of all the media coverage and confessions have your opinions of Bush as a president or a leader changed? What are your opinions?

Does facing these issues and addressing his mistakes grant him forgiveness or understanding?

And finally, should all leaders offer a postmortem on their time in power? Does it help or hurt their standing?

Adolf Hitler

Adolf Hitler is one of the most infamous characters in world history, known for his leadership in the Nazi Party and his role as chancellor of Germany in the early 1930s. After the devastating results of World War II and the Holocaust, can Hitler be considered a leader despite the damages he influenced? What aspects of his behavior and his reign as Germany’s dictator allow him to be characterized as a leader, and what qualities force us to closely examine our definition of leadership?

As a leader, Hitler maintained legitimate power, however he could achieve it (Hughes, Ginnett, Curphy). When Hitler joined the Nazi Party, he felt that the leadership was divided and ineffective, paving the perfect path for him to take over. While there were many in the party who disapproved of his personal ambition, most recognized his abilities to generate public attention for the party; therefore, when Hitler threatened to resign in 1921, the other members decided to grant him overall leadership because they knew they needed his expertise.

Throughout his rule, Hitler maintained a mission and outlook that Sashkin would say fulfills the requirements of visionary leadership. He constructed a vision that stated the “Aryan race” was superior to all and “defin[ed] an organizational philosophy” that supported this inequality. Hitler and the Nazi party practiced what they believed in, starting the “new order” and expelling Jews from Germany by any means possible, including extermination. Despite the lack of respectable values, Hitler is a leader according to Sashkin’s definition.

While there are several definitions where Hitler can be considered a leader, there are many others that would denounce his leadership because it is lacking in respected morals and a relationship with his followers. Hitler projected a personalized charismatic leadership, a style that is “exploitative, non-egalitarian, and self-aggrandizing” (Choi). He was extremely focused on his personal control, insisting that the “ultimate authority rested with him and extended downward” (BBC). He assumed other positions so that ultimately he would have even more legitimate power, whether or not it was the best move for his party. This style is extremely dangerous for those who followed Hitler, as they were not heard, often punished for wrongdoings, and became supporters of the morally repugnant “new order.” Hitler harmed his party through his unrelenting control and lack of concern for others. Rather than create a collaborative and inclusive environment, as Burns would encourage, Hitler believed in giving direct orders without many others’ input.

Hitler was known for heavily critiquing those who reported to him and became angry and frustrated with mistakes. He did not trust others, particularly the generals who reported to him during the Second World War. Without establishing a two-way relationship, Hitler could not, and would not, rely on the opinions of others, resorting to his instincts and opinions. As a leader, he did little to build a relationship with his followers, focusing on direct control rather than mutual communication. McGregor writes, “Leadership is not a property of the individual, but a complex relationship among these variables.” Hitler underplayed and often ignored the characteristics of his followers, the characteristics of the Nazi Party as a whole, and the political context surrounding his leadership.

When examining Hitler’s leadership, it is essential to identify your own leadership model. Do you believe that morality and communication are key factors when developing a strong and effective leader? In hindsight, it is easy to denounce Hitler as a leader because of the pain and harm he afflicted on others. Heifitz writes that “leadership engages our values,” but what if those values are immoral and destructive to many parties? Hitler was a leader, mainly due to his positional power and influence on others surrounding his vision. However, I believe there is a difference between moral and immoral leaders, and when the vision is detrimental to multiple parties, the leadership is not a success.