Reporter's Note: President Obama’s Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, is going to Haiti to survey the situation. Perhaps the single best message she could take to all the Americans who are there to help, is “Go ahead.” That’s the subject of my latest letter to the White House.
Tom Foreman | BIO
Dear Mr. President,
The wonderful historian, Stephen Ambrose, wrote at length about the amazing accomplishments of normal American troops during World War Two. He went as far as to suggest that their initiative was what won the war; their instinct to make decisions on the fly and adjust their battle plans, while not always waiting always for instructions from above.
I was fortunate enough to visit with Stephen several times before his untimely death, and he spoke passionately about his faith in the essential creativity, courage, and trustworthiness of ordinary Americans. However, when I look at situations like Haiti, Katrina, and others, I find myself wondering if our leaders these days, at all levels of management in both public and private offices, are driving that spirit into retreat.
Often I am frustrated by the measured lack of bravery and boldness in confronting great problems. I feel like too many leaders, faced with challenges such as a natural disaster, worry too much about having the “perfect” plan, and so they have no plan at all until it is too late. They fret so much over taking excessive risk that they start thinking any risk is unacceptable. They give up on satisfying needs, and instead focus on satisfying lawyers. And in the process, they cage the true heroes who work with them; folks who are ready to put their own concerns and careers behind the needs of others.
Don’t be mistaken. I am not a fan of cowboys who rush headlong into danger with little forethought. They often make situations only worse, and I understand why they frighten corporate and governmental leaders.
But greatness does not come from people who shrink endlessly from any chance of failure. Nor does leadership flow from those who deny their followers all self-determination. True leaders earn the trust of their teams, by putting trust in those people.
In places like Haiti, the American spirit is at its best when set free; when the “leaders” show their true judgment and greatness, by unleashing the people who have come to help…to do just that.
Hope you can encourage them, as the struggles down south continue.
And of course, Go Saints!
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