To accomplish any lofty goal, such as returning America to greatness or any national re-engineering project, leaders have to look beyond the reactionary, immediate, short-term problems. They must look instead to the more important, long-term, visionary solutions. This isn’t easy for our leaders to do, because it isn’t easy for humans to do. Never has been. Way back when, our ancestors were constantly worried about the saber-toothed tiger biting someone’s face off or snatching a baby. There was neither the time nor the mental and physical resources to build tools to keep the tigers out of the camp in the first place. This is still a challenge today.
In your own life, how far can you see ahead? How far do you plan ahead? Goals and plans come from missions. And missions come from values. Goals have deadlines. Plans involve the passage of time. Even missions can change over the course of time.
But values – especially Conservative core values – are timeless.
Which is good because some of our missions might take more than our own lifetime to accomplish—they’re transgenerational and they require that kind of “longpath” thinking. Issues like long-term environmental sustainability, climate stabilization, racial harmony, global nuclear disarmament, hunger.
If all you do with your time and mind is put out fires, you’ll never get anywhere, not even to your valueless goals. It’s the same whether you’ve caused the fires or someone else has caused them. You’ll never even be able to think about those important values you’d like to act on. Even if you’re able to keep your head above water, you’ll still drown in regret come the end of your life.
Instead, look below. Pick one value. Start today. Start out small. Start at home. But start to act in service of the value instead of reacting to immediate circumstances. Don’t think of it as a chore or a problem to be solved but as an opportunity to master your own life. True leadership is not even about problem-solving per se. It’s about building on values. If we all started with that, we’d have a great basis for a revolutionary social movement.
The following list of values is inspired by the MasonLeads program at George Mason University; it’s a good example of the kind of Ground Zero Values that built our country and can sustain it though an uncertain future.
- Respect, empathy, and compassion for self and others. Think Lincoln.
- Service, contribution, and making a difference. Some call that legacy. Think Teddy Roosevelt.
- Integrity, moral courage, trustworthiness. Think George Washington, Gandhi.
- Transparency, consistency, congruency, authenticity. Think Margaret Thatcher, Nelson Mandela.
- Mettle, taking a stand, acting boldly for good. Some call that grit. Think Galileo, Socrates.
- Humility, ability to see your limitations, openness to other perspectives. Think Benjamin Franklin, Dwight D. Eisenhower.
- Wisdom, reason, the 1,776-foot perspective, long-term thinking. Think Queen Victoria, Golda Meir.
I have never met an effective leader who didn’t possess all these strengths, who wasn’t able to call on one or more of those values in his or her every action affecting themselves or others. Even those I knew well and with whom I strongly disagreed on key issues—people like Ed Koch, Mario Cuomo, and Patrick Moynihan (D–NY)—I respected because we shared some important core values, such as intelligence, service, kindness, and diligence. Though their beliefs and actions based on those values sometimes differed from my own, I couldn’t help but respect them for who they were.
Look no further than his words and deeds to see what our current president might value. Now consider George Washington, who sacrificed personal gain for public service, who refused to be king, who self-limited his term in power. Or those of Lincoln, who made the ultimate sacrifice to unite us. Or of Eisenhower, whose strong leadership, humility, and personal responsibility took our nation from the brink into the modern era. Or of Harry S. Truman, who continued Lincoln’s legacy of civil rights action by, for example, integrating the U.S. military.