Iacocca: Where Have All the Leaders Gone?


Richard Moore

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Iacocca: Where Have All the Leaders Gone?

American Empire | Books

Excerpt: 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 fall together.

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 right.

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 failed policy.

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 the roof.

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 burner.

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 

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 

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 dry. <!--[endif]-->

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 


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