Jackie Gingrich Cushman

This past Saturday, while watching the World Cup match between the United States and England, a friend and I chatted about the state of U.S. politics. "Is it getting worse," Brad posited, "or are we more aware of what is going on?"

We decided it was a combination of factors: Currently in our late 30s and early 40s, we pay more taxes and are more aware of the impact of politics on our lives than we used to be. Additionally, as professionals with 20 years of work experience, we gravitate toward competence in business and wonder about the seeming lack of competence in politics.

In a study cited in their new book, "The Leadership Challenge" (Pfeiffer, 2010), authors James Kouzes and Barry Posner note that honesty is the top desired leadership trait. If leaders are not honest, you don't know whether they will do what they say, as they might be lying to you.

The second trait is the ability to inspire. This allows leaders to gather people together to accomplish a mission, to forge ahead and work hard toward a goal.

The third trait is competence -- the ability to get done those things they want done.

Rush Limbaugh

Brad and I discussed the survey. "I've been inspired," he said as he shook his head. "I don't need inspiration. I just want competence."

Brad's No. 1 trait desired from politicians: competence.

I was not so sure. I love a rousing speech.

In a separate study by psychologists Susan Fiske and Amy Cuddy of Princeton, competence and warmth attributes were researched. The study noted that people first ascertain what someone's intentions are toward them. Does the other person want to help us or hurt us? This determines whether we view them as warm (help us) or cold (hurt us). Secondly, are they able to carry out those intentions (are they competent)?

How people score on this two-dimensional model influences how we view them: We feel paternalistic toward those who are warm and incompetent; we feel at risk from or envious of those who are cold and competent; we feel contempt toward those who are cold and incompetent; we admire those who are warm and competent.

This last quadrant is the area in which leaders should operate.

President Obama, the elected leader of our nation, is being challenged by the Gulf oil spill.

In last week's "Today" show interview, host Matt Lauer asked Obama, "Have you spoken directly to Tony Hayward, the CEO of BP?"


Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.