Winning Leadership

This is Super Tuesday. John Kerry has virtually cinched the Democratic nomination for president. So this is a good day to discuss leadership as the second post in our series about a winning strategy for Democrats this year. Sun Tzu teaches that a good leader is smart, trustworthy, caring, brave, and disciplined. Sun Tzu defines the two skills of a leader as knowledge and vision, knowing his situation and recognizing its opportunities. He must be intelligent to make good decisions, the key role of a leader. A leader must be trustworthy and caring to attract and hold followers. He must be brave enough to commit himself to his vision, but he must be disciplined enough to control his emotions and keep going. No one is perfect in all of these regards, and John Kerry wouldn’t be the nominee unless he had shown some strength in each of these five areas. Kerry is clearly is caring in a way that is appealing within the Democratic mainstream. He has also proven to be disciplined in campaigning. The further he is behind—such as in Iowa—the harder he works. I suspect he is very bright (though, so far, he has demonstrated little knowledge of strategy). He was both brave and trustworthy under during his military service and in the Senate. While in the Senate, he took many minority stands, such as his vote against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which were both courageous and keeping trust with the views of his constituency. As a senator, however, he has had little opportunity to demonstrate his abilities of knowledge or vision. The fact that he has never been the chief sponsor of a key piece of legislation seems to show some weakness in these areas. Sun Tzu also lists five weaknesses of a leader. Leaders can be too fearless, too careful, too emotional, too idealistic, and too attached to individuals. Here, we know less about John Kerry because, as a Senator, he hasn't been a real decision-maker. Will Kerry over-reach himself because he is too confident? Will he be too careful about not offending anyone? Will he overreact when, as is inevitable, a negative news story takes hold in the press? Will he be too idealistic to adjust his liberal roots to mainstream tastes? These are characteristics that will be tested for in the coming race.