Iacocca: Where Have All the Leaders Gone?
American Empire | Books
Where Have All the Leaders Gone?
By Lee Iacocca with Catherine Whitney
04/11/07 "ICH" -- -- -Had Enough? Am I the only guy in
this country who's fed up with what's happening? Where the hell
is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. We've got
a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a
cliff, we've got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we
can't even clean up after a hurricane much less build a hybrid
car. But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods
their heads when the politicians say, "Stay the course." Stay
the course? You've got to be kidding. This is America, not the
damned Titanic. I'll give you a sound bite: Throw the bums out!
You might think I'm getting senile, that I've gone off my
rocker, and maybe I have. But someone has to speak up. I hardly
recognize this country anymore. The President of the United
States is given a free pass to ignore the Constitution, tap our
phones, and lead us to war on a pack of lies.Congress responds
to record deficits by passing a huge tax cut for the wealthy
(thanks, but I don't need it). The most famous business leaders
are not the innovators but the guys in handcuffs. While we're
fiddling in Iraq, the Middle East is burning and nobody seems to
know what to do. And the press is waving pom-poms instead of
asking hard questions. That's not the promise of America my
parents and yours traveled across the ocean for.
I've had enough. How about you? I'll go a step further. You
can't call yourself a patriot if you're not outraged. This is a
fight I'm ready and willing to have. My friends tell me to calm
down. They say, "Lee, you're eighty-two years old. Leave the
rage to the young people." I'd love to, as soon as I can pry
them away from their iPods for five seconds and get them to pay
attention. I'm going to speak up because it's my patriotic duty.
I think people will listen to me. They say I have a reputation
as a straight shooter. So I'll tell you how I see it, and it's
not pretty, but at least it's real. I'm hoping to strike a nerve
in those young folks who say they don't vote because they don't
trust politicians to represent their interests. Hey, America,
wake up. These guys work for us. Who Are These Guys, Anyway? Why
are we in this mess? How did we end up with this crowd in
Washington? Well, we voted for them, or at least some of us did.
But I'll tell you what we didn't do. We didn't agree to suspend
the Constitution. We didn't agree to stop asking questions or
demanding answers. Some of us are sick and tired of people who
call free speech treason. Where I come from that's a
dictatorship, not a democracy. And don't tell me it's all the
fault of right-wing Republicans or liberal Democrats. That's an
intellectually lazy argument, and it's part of the reason we're
in this stew. We're not just a nation of factions. We're a
people. We share common principles and ideals. And we rise and
Where are the voices of leaders who can inspire us to action and
make us stand taller? What happened to the strong and resolute
party of Lincoln? What happened to the courageous, populist
party of FDR and Truman? There was a time in this country when
the voices of great leaders lifted us up and made us want to do
better. Where have all the leaders gone?
The Test of a Leader
I've never been Commander in Chief, but I've been a CEO. I
understand a few things about leadership at the top. I've
figured out nine points, not ten (I don't want people accusing
me of thinking I'm Moses). I call them the "Nine Cs of
Leadership." They're not fancy or complicated. Just clear,
obvious qualities that every true leader should have. We should
look at how the current administration stacks up. Like it or
not, this crew is going to be around until January 2009. Maybe
we can learn something before we go to the polls in 2008. Then
let's be sure we use the leadership test to screen the
candidates who say they want to run the country. It's up to us
to choose wisely.
A leader has to show CURIOSITY. He has to listen to people
outside of the "Yes, sir" crowd in his inner circle. He has to
read voraciously, because the world is a big, complicated place.
George W. Bush brags about never reading a newspaper. "I just
scan the headlines," he says. Am I hearing this right? He's the
President of the United States and he never reads a newspaper?
Thomas Jefferson once said, "Were it left to me to decide
whether we should have a government without newspapers, or
newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate for a
moment to prefer the latter." Bush disagrees. As long as he gets
his daily hour in the gym, with Fox News piped through the sound
system, he's ready to go.
If a leader never steps outside his comfort zone to hear
different ideas, he grows stale. If he doesn't put his beliefs
to the test, how does he know he's right? The inability to
listen is a form of arrogance. It means either you think you
already know it all, or you just don't care. Before the 2006
election, George Bush made a big point of saying he didn't
listen to the polls. Yeah, that's what they all say when the
polls stink. But maybe he should have listened, because 70
percent of the people were saying he was on the wrong track. It
took a "thumping" on election day to wake him up, but even then
you got the feeling he wasn't listening so much as he was
calculating how to do a better job of convincing everyone he was
A leader has to be CREATIVE, go out on a limb, be willing to try
something different. You know, think outside the box. George
Bush prides himself on never changing, even as the world around
him is spinning out of control. God forbid someone should accuse
him of flip-flopping. There's a disturbingly messianic fervor to
his certainty. Senator Joe Biden recalled a conversation he had
with Bush a few months after our troops marched into Baghdad.
Joe was in the Oval Office outlining his concerns to the
President, the explosive mix of Shiite and Sunni, the disbanded
Iraqi army, the problems securing the oil fields. "The President
was serene," Joe recalled. "He told me he was sure that we were
on the right course and that all would be well. 'Mr. President,'
I finally said, 'how can you be so sure when you don't yet know
all the facts?'" Bush then reached over and put a steadying hand
on Joe's shoulder. "My instincts," he said. "My instincts." Joe
was flabbergasted. He told Bush,"Mr. President, your instincts
aren't good enough." Joe Biden sure didn't think the matter was
settled. And, as we all know now, it wasn't. Leadership is all
about managing change, whether you're leading a company or
leading a country. Things change, and you get creative. You
adapt. Maybe Bush was absent the day they covered that at
Harvard Business School.
A leader has to COMMUNICATE. I'm not talking about running off
at the mouth or spouting sound bites. I'm talking about facing
reality and telling the truth. Nobody in the current
administration seems to know how to talk straight anymore.
Instead, they spend most of their time trying to convince us
that things are not really as bad as they seem. I don't know if
it's denial or dishonesty, but it can start to drive you crazy
after a while. Communication has to start with telling the
truth, even when it's painful. The war in Iraq has been, among
other things, a grand failure of communication. Bush is like the
boy who didn't cry wolf when the wolf was at the door. After
years of being told that all is well, even as the casualties and
chaos mount, we've stopped listening to him.
A leader has to be a person of CHARACTER. That means knowing the
difference between right and wrong and having the guts to do the
right thing. Abraham Lincoln once said, "If you want to test a
man's character, give him power." George Bush has a lot of
power. What does it say about his character? Bush has shown a
willingness to take bold action on the world stage because he
has the power, but he shows little regard for the grievous
consequences. He has sent our troops (not to mention hundreds of
thousands of innocent Iraqi citizens) to their deaths. For what?
To build our oil reserves? To avenge his daddy because Saddam
Hussein once tried to have him killed? To show his daddy he's
tougher? The motivations behind the war in Iraq are
questionable, and the execution of the war has been a disaster.
A man of character does not ask a single soldier to die for a
A leader must have COURAGE. I'm talking about balls. (That even
goes for female leaders.) Swagger isn't courage. Tough talk
isn't courage. George Bush comes from a blue-blooded Connecticut
family, but he likes to talk like a cowboy. You know, My gun is
bigger than your gun. Courage in the twenty-first century
doesn't mean posturing and bravado. Courage is a commitment to
sit down at the negotiating table and talk.
If you're a politician, courage means taking a position even
when you know it will cost you votes. Bush can't even make a
public appearance unless the audience has been handpicked and
sanitized. He did a series of so-called town hall meetings last
year, in auditoriums packed with his most devoted fans. The
questions were all softballs.
To be a leader you've got to have CONVICTION, a fire in your
belly. You've got to have passion. You've got to really want to
get something done. How do you measure fire in the belly? Bush
has set the all-time record for number of vacation days taken by
a U.S. President, four hundred and counting. He'd rather clear
brush on his ranch than immerse himself in the business of
governing. He even told an interviewer that the high point of
his presidency so far was catching a seven-and-a-half-pound
perch in his hand-stocked lake. It's no better on Capitol Hill.
Congress was in session only ninety-seven days in 2006. That's
eleven days less than the record set in 1948, when President
Harry Truman coined the term do-nothing Congress. Most people
would expect to be fired if they worked so little and had
nothing to show for it. But Congress managed to find the time to
vote itself a raise. Now, that's not leadership.
A leader should have CHARISMA. I'm not talking about being
flashy. Charisma is the quality that makes people want to follow
you. It's the ability to inspire. People follow a leader because
they trust him. That's my definition of charisma. Maybe George
Bush is a great guy to hang out with at a barbecue or a ball
game. But put him at a global summit where the future of our
planet is at stake, and he doesn't look very presidential. Those
frat-boy pranks and the kidding around he enjoys so much don't
go over that well with world leaders. Just ask German Chancellor
Angela Merkel, who received an unwelcome shoulder massage from
our President at a G-8 Summit. When he came up behind her and
started squeezing, I thought she was going to go right through
A leader has to be COMPETENT. That seems obvious, doesn't it?
You've got to know what you're doing. More important than that,
you've got to surround yourself with people who know what
they're doing. Bush brags about being our first MBA President.
Does that make him competent? Well, let's see. Thanks to our
first MBA President, we've got the largest deficit in history,
Social Security is on life support, and we've run up a
half-a-trillion-dollar price tag (so far) in Iraq. And that's
just for starters. A leader has to be a problem solver, and the
biggest problems we face as a nation seem to be on the back
You can't be a leader if you don't have COMMON SENSE. I call
this Charlie Beacham's rule. When I was a young guy just
starting out in the car business, one of my first jobs was as
Ford's zone manager in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. My boss was a
guy named Charlie Beacham, who was the East Coast regional
manager. Charlie was a big Southerner, with a warm drawl, a huge
smile, and a core of steel. Charlie used to tell me, "Remember,
Lee, the only thing you've got going for you as a human being is
your ability to reason and your common sense. If you don't know
a dip of horseshit from a dip of vanilla ice cream, you'll never
make it." George Bush doesn't have common sense. He just has a
lot of sound bites. You know,
Bush. Former President Bill Clinton once said, "I grew up in an
alcoholic home. I spent half my childhood trying to get into the
reality-based world, and I like it here." I think our current
President should visit the real world once in a while.
The Biggest C is Crisis Leaders are made, not born. Leadership
is forged in times of crisis. It's easy to sit there with your
feet up on the desk and talk theory. Or send someone else's kids
off to war when you've never seen a battlefield yourself. It's
another thing to lead when your world comes tumbling down. On
September 11, 2001, we needed a strong leader more than any
other time in our history. We needed a steady hand to guide us
out of the ashes. Where was George Bush? He was reading a story
about a pet goat to kids in Florida when he heard about the
attacks. He kept sitting there for twenty minutes with a baffled
look on his face. It's all on tape. You can see it for yourself.
Then, instead of taking the quickest route back to Washington
and immediately going on the air to reassure the panicked people
of this country, he decided it wasn't safe to return to the
White House. He basically went into hiding for the day, and he
told Vice President Dick Cheney to stay put in his bunker. We
were all frozen in front of our TVs, scared out of our wits,
waiting for our leaders to tell us that we were going to be
okay, and there was nobody home. It took Bush a couple of days
to get his bearings and devise the right photo op at Ground
Zero. That was George Bush's moment of truth, and he was
paralyzed. And what did he do when he'd regained his composure?
He led us down the road to Iraq, a road his own father had
considered disastrous when he was President. But Bush didn't
listen to Daddy. He listened to a higher father. He prides
himself on being faith based, not reality based. If that doesn't
scare the crap out of you,I don't know what will.
A Hell of a Mess.
So here's where we stand. We're immersed in a bloody war with no
plan for winning and no plan for leaving. We're running the
biggest deficit in the history of the country. We're losing the
manufacturing edge to Asia, while our once-great companies are
getting slaughtered by health care costs. Gas prices are
skyrocketing, and nobody in power has a coherent energy policy.
Our schools are in trouble. Our borders are like sieves. The
middle class is being squeezed every which way. These are times
that cry out for leadership.
But when you look around, you've got to ask: "Where have all the
leaders gone?" Where are the curious, creative communicators?
Where are the people of character, courage, conviction,
competence, and common sense? I may be a sucker for
alliteration, but I think you get the point.
Name me a leader who has a better idea for homeland security
than making us take off our shoes in airports and throw away our
shampoo? We've spent billions of dollars building a huge new
bureaucracy, and all we know how to do is react to things that
have already happened. Name me one leader who emerged from the
crisis of Hurricane Katrina. Congress has yet to spend a single
day evaluating the response to the hurricane, or demanding
accountability for the decisions that were made in the crucial
hours after the storm. Everyone's hunkering down, fingers
crossed, hoping it doesn't happen again. Now, that's just crazy.
Storms happen. Deal with it. Make a plan. Figure out what you're
going to do the next time.
Name me an industry leader who is thinking creatively about how
we can restore our competitive edge in manufacturing. Who would
have believed that there could ever be a time when "the Big
Three" referred to Japanese car companies? How did this happen,
and more important, what are we going to do about it? <!--[if !supportEmptyParas]-->Name
me a government leader who can articulate a plan for paying down
the debt, or solving the energy crisis, or managing the health
care problem. The silence is deafening. But these are the crises
that are eating away at our country and milking the middle class
I have news for the gang in Congress. We didn't elect you to sit
on your asses and do nothing and remain silent while our
democracy is being hijacked and our greatness is being replaced
with mediocrity. What is everybody so afraid of? That some
bobblehead on Fox News will call them a name? Give me a break.
Why don't you guys show some spine for a change? Had Enough?
Hey, I'm not trying to be the voice of gloom and doom here. I'm
trying to light a fire. I'm speaking out because I have hope. I
believe in America. In my lifetime I've had the privilege of
living through some of America's greatest moments. I've also
experienced some of our worst crises, the Great Depression,
World War II, the Korean War, the Kennedy assassination, the
Vietnam War, the 1970s oil crisis, and the struggles of recent
years culminating with 9/11. If I've learned one thing, it's
this: You don't get anywhere by standing on the sidelines
waiting for somebody else to take action. Whether it's building
a better car or building a better future for our children, we
all have a role to play. That's the challenge I'm raising in
this book. It's a call to action for people who, like me,
believe in America. It's not too late, but it's getting pretty
close. So let's shake off the horseshit and go to work. Let's
tell 'em all we've had enough
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