This is a time of profound insecurity in which people seek answers in their leaders which they can't find in themselves, a panel of academics said at the Kennedy School of Government last night.
Panelists Richard Haass, Ronald Heifetz and Shirley Williams and moderator Richard Neustadt are all past or current members of the Kennedy School faculty. They addressed an audience of about 200 at an Institute of Politics forum titled "Leadership."
Williams, a member of Great Britain's House of Lords and cofounder of the Social Democratic Party, said our society has two contradictory ideas about the roles our leaders should play.
"This is a time of conflicting trends," Williams said. "One where leaders are demoted to seem no more intelligent or capable than ourselves, the other which seeks to find in the leader those answers which we can't find in ourselves."
The other panelists pointed to specific practical issues of leadership.
One problem of leadership today is the pressure to deliver "fast fixes," said Heifetz, author of Leadership Without Easy Answers.
Politicians seeking reelection are therefore likely to give their constituents what they want to hear--"a fake answer delivered with conviction," rather than a real, complex solution.
Real leadership is measured not so much by the number of followers one has as by one's ability to persuade, listen and be persuaded, said Haass, former director of the National Security Council and special assistant to President Bush.
"A leader needs to be a manager," said Haass, author of The Power to Persuade. "There is usually a fundamental divide between the two, but in reality the two go hand-in-hand."