Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Echoes of an Original Sound

The American Presidential primaries have ignited a firestorm of civil participation not seen in a long time. This is good. Something is getting to the hearts of people across all spectrums. Could this be an original sound of rediscovered meaning and purpose in a world that has veered too far from what it takes to lead an ordinary life?

Hands down, Barack Obama has led the way with his inspirational oratory. To quote John A. Shedd, “When there is an original sound in the world, it makes a hundred echoes.” But other Presidential hopefuls are doing their share. John McCain has a great story of survival under the worst of circumstances. Hillary Clinton is a gritty woman renowned for her work ethic and ability to survive multiple dueling matches up close and personal. Obama’s background symbolizes the struggles of ordinary folks. The timing couldn’t be better for his leadership. Without a revived and happier middle class and a helping hand for the disadvantaged to get on their feet, prosperity and progress have little chance.

Much has been said about Obama’s charisma and Hillary’s lack of it. That is not the heart of the matter. Authenticity is. Is this person “for real” deep in his heart and soul? Does he care? Does he understand my situation and want to help me reach my potential? Or, is he just full of hot air? Does he have the courage to face up to and work through the forces that stand in the way of a better life for the many not the few?

Authenticity relates to a complex lifelong process of self-discovery and self-knowing, It is the opposite of self-delusion and grandeur and “I know best”. Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones in Why Should Anyone Be Led by You? offer a quick checklist of an authentic leader:

1. Consistency between words and deeds
2. Coherence in role performance, displaying a “real self” that holds all the different performances together
3. Comfort with self

This cannot be faked. Even children sense when things are not quite right about a person. They don’t like self-absorbed opportunistic adults who cannot connect to their worlds. Authenticity is deep in our souls or not.

In the absence of stability, authentic leadership anywhere and everywhere becomes even more vital. It must be earned over and over again. Whoever does that well each step of the way has a better chance of securing one of the most coveted jobs in the world than the others.

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