President Harry Truman had a great insight about the correlation between our political leaders and progress when he said, “In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still.” Unfortunately at this point, just standing still would seem an improvement over the current backward slide in which we are stuck.
But of course standing still is not the goal; America and our economy need to move forward. Thus, President Truman’s addition, “Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.”
Many frequently comment on the ever-growing list of detrimental changes to business, and thus the economy, that have been enacted over the last couple of years. There’s plenty to comment on from the Obama administration: Stacking the National Labor Relations Board with anti-business union activists, ramming through unpopular and costly job-killing legislation, unleashing barrages of environmental and occupational regulations to punish small business owners to the point of a never-ending stream of layoffs, and pushing large companies like Boeing and Gibson to the point of sending jobs overseas. These bear repeating so that we don’t forget that actions have consequences, and a lack of leadership has severe consequences.
America still has the largest economy and is still the best place to build and grow a business in the world. The economy could roar again. It’s hit big bumps before and recovered, but our problem is really that we are in a leadership recession.
As President Truman said, courageous and skillful leaders enable progress to happen. And many times those leaders know the courageous and skillful action is to get out of the way.
Earlier this week the On Leadership editor at the Washington Post interviewed longtime Google CEO and current Chairman Eric Schmidt about his recent testimony in front of the US Senate. The interview focused on Google’s role as a leader in innovation and economic growth in the technology sector. Schmidt had a very telling observation:
“I’ll give you a formula. This is an Andy Grove formula. So I’m sitting at this dinner in 1995—Andy Grove was the CEO of Intel—and he gives this speech, and he says, “This is easy to understand. High tech runs three-times faster than normal businesses. And the government runs three-times slower than normal businesses. So we have a nine-times gap.” And I said, “Works for me.” But all of my experiences are consistent with Andy Grove’s observation. And so what you want to do is you want to make sure that the government does not get in the way and slow things down.”
In my experience of owning and operating a business, this hits the nail on the head. Government is always going to be many steps behind. Ideas, innovation, creativity, ingenuity, all the important ingredients to economic growth and job creation, are not found in government, only taxed and regulation by government.
Our current leaders would do well to heed the words of another President, John F. Kennedy, who said that “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” Our leadership recession could be turned around by learning that as long as you assault the private sector it will continue to be stunted. Here’s hoping (and praying) for a leadership turnaround—for we only have until 2012 to avoid a “double dip” leadership recession.
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