Haven’t we all seen a cute video of a small town parade where a little kid (usually a boy) jumps out in front of the band and marches ahead of them, waving his arms? He thinks he’s leading them, but of course he’s just staying ahead of them as they go wherever they were planning to go in the first place. He’s really following from in front.
Following from in front is what passes for political leadership in the country these days (and pretty much the whole world, for that matter). The Republican candidates for president, all the little boys and little girls, have jumped in front of the Tea Party band. They aren’t really sure where that band is marching, but they hope that it’s to the White House. And when it gets there, they’ll be in front. Or at least one of them will. It would be kind of cute to watch them elbow and shove each other to be first except that we don’t know what any of them will do when they get there. We don’t know what little Michelle, Herman and Ricky will do because they haven’t a clue themselves. We don’t know what Mitt and Newt will do because they keep jumping in front of different bands and it’s not clear which one it will be when they get there.
Real leadership is something very different. It is not giving people what they want. That’s called managing. Don’t get me wrong, managing is important. We all want the trash picked up, the roads cleared of snow, etc, and thus need mangers who will see that these things are done. But leadership is getting people to do something they wouldn’t otherwise do, something they don’t want to do but need to—committing time, money, and perhaps their lives for the collective good. Real leaders are definitely not following from in front. Oh, p.s., we also want leaders who use their powers for good (say, protect the environment) rather than evil (say, the Iraq war, enriching the wealthy). Not seeing a lot of these right now.