Posted at 2:55 PM ET, 01/ 7/2011
Peggy Noonan is right — on the qualities of leadership
By Jonathan Capehart
Through more than a year of musings about this and that, you may have picked up that I’m a closet Emily Post or Amy Vanderbilt. Okay, fine, Lettia Baldridge. Anyway, how we treat each other as people — gay and straight, Democrat and Republican, rich and the rest of us — is very important to me. That’s why the flow of insanity from reality television worries me. A society that makes stars of Snooki, the Situation, Paris Hilton and the Kardashians (I could go on, but I’d need a Xanax) is one that is in serious trouble.
In writing about the cultural cauldron that burned Capt. Owen Honors, Peggy Noonan masterfully zeroes in on what ails us: “It is that no one knows how to act anymore.” That’s because far too many people in positions of authority have eschewed some of the necessary requirements of leadership in favor of being one of the guys. And what we’ve lost in the process is crisply captured by Noonan.
But the videos were a shock in that this was a captain of the U.S. Navy, commanding a nuclear-powered ship, and acting in a way that was without dignity, stature or apartness. He was acting as if it was important to him to be seen as one of the guys, with regular standards, like everyone else.
But it’s a great mistake when you are in a leadership position to want to be like everyone else. Because that, actually, is not your job. Your job is to be better, and to set standards that those below you have to reach to meet. And you have to do this even when it’s hard, even when you know you yourself don’t quite meet the standards you represent.
A captain has to be a captain. He can’t make videos referencing masturbation and oral sex. He has to uphold values even though he finds them antique, he has to represent virtues he may not in fact possess, he has to be, in his person, someone sailors aspire to be.
Call me old-fashioned. I don’t care. Noonan nails it. Not everyone will be an aircraft carrier commander, but everyone is a leader in some facet of their life, in the eyes of someone in their life. If we all adopted just one of the leadership qualities Noonan outlines, we’d be a better nation for it.