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On Leadership January 16, 2009

Posted by markgeil in Philosophical musings.
Tags: , ,

On the week before we inaugurate a new president, some wise words about leadership from Rebekah, age 7:

“I don’t like to be the leader. People are always stepping on my heels. And sometimes I don’t know which way to go.”

Last night, President Bush delivered his farewell address to the nation. I am sure there were times during his eight years of service that he would have agreed with Rebekah. He seemed to have more than his fair share of difficult decisions during his two terms, and there were undoubtedly times when he didn’t know which way to go. During some of those times, he probably didn’t like being the leader. Especially with all those people stepping on his heels.

What’s a leader to do when he’s not sure which way to go, and leading is not much fun, and someone has stepped so hard on your heel that the back of your foot has slid right out? He must rely unwaveringly on his principles, and those principles had better be established before the difficult decisions come along. Like it or not, President Bush relied on his principles. Last night, he spoke of an overriding belief that freedom is to be favored over oppression. Few would argue with that sentiment. I imagine if you took a poll, “freedom” would beat “oppression” in a landslide. But when it’s more than a sentiment, when it’s a bedrock principle that guides the most difficult decisions, it can become divisive.

Bush stated that, “Iraq has gone from a brutal dictatorship and a sworn enemy of America to an Arab democracy at the heart of the Middle East and a friend of the United States.” I know, you might want to argue with several aspects of his statement. That’s not my point. This is not an apologetic on policy. The decisions to invade Iraq, to remove Hussein from power, to remain in Iraq today, have all been agonizingly difficult. Like it or not, President Bush relied on his principles: freedom is to be favored over oppression.

Consider this, the most poignant part of his speech: “Like all who have held this office before me, I have experienced setbacks and there are things I would do differently, if given the chance.

“Yet, I’ve always acted with the best interests of our country in mind. I have followed my conscience and done what I thought was right. You may not agree with some tough decisions I have made, but I hope you can agree that I was willing to make the tough decisions.”


Some debate whether great leaders are born or made. Either way, there are times when we are all called upon to lead. Even Rebekah, who doesn’t like being the leader, will have to make decisions. Sometimes these will be difficult decisions. Sometimes others will have to follow her lead, even in crisis. Great leaders may be born that way, but principles, certitude, core values, these are not natural, not inborn. These are made.  As Rebekah’s father, and therefore a leader, I know my highest priority: the establishment of a foundation of ethics in my daughters; an awareness and understanding of the God that I love; a deeply rooted sense of morality.

President Bush will take some time away from the tough decisions. His feet will remain safely ensconced in his shoes. Our daughters don’t have too many difficult choices to make yet, but they will. Before they come, I’ll keep doing my best to lay the foundation they’ll need. And whether she believes it or not, I’ve seen enough of a spark in little Rebekah to make me think people will be following her one day soon.

My prayers are with Presidents Bush and Obama, and they’re different prayers for different seasons of life. My prayer for our country continues to be this: that she be guided by leaders of principle, leaders who know right from wrong and choose what is right, leaders who follow God’s will with a discernment established long before the crises. If we all pray such a prayer, it won’t be an imposition to ask,

God bless America.



1. coffee - January 16, 2009

it seemed like Bush was trying to justify making the wrong decisions by calling them “tough”… but this is silly. Every president has to make “tough” desicions… the main issue is, were they the RIGHT decisions?

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