Leadership by Example

A rich and varied personal and academic life and thirty years of inspiring U.S. Government service have taught me that the most successful leadership is leadership by example.

Children learn from their parents and teachers, and working adults from their superiors.

We become better and more productive citizens when we have had the good fortune of positive role models in our lives. Finding examples worthy of emulation has sadly become one of the weakest links in world leadership today. Character has all but taken leave of our society.

Where are the strong leaders whose integrity was worthy of our admiration? Why does conflict consistently triumph over compromise? Why do hatred and envy so often prevail over generosity of spirit and mutual respect? Why is democracy constantly being defined as equality when even its illustrious father, Alexis de Tocqueville warned that such a definition would spell its end? How do we get back on track?

I strongly believe that we must live in the present. The mistakes of the past cannot be undone. We must learn from them, but we must do so without constantly burying ourselves in their mire and forever spending precious present time blaming those who failed us in the past. We must use every minute wisely and productively to build a society based on self- discipline, individual accountability and mutual respect. We must create a world where trust becomes the glue that binds, where credit is given for positive achievement and where past hatreds become just that: a thing of the past.

Trust is the end product of successful leadership. It is missing through the world. In the Czech Republic trust was wiped out by forty years of leadership by fear instead of by example. Far from being restored in 1989, it was further eroded by the arrival of "business experts" who saw in the countries of the former Soviet Block a personal "Klondike" instead of an opportunity to rebuild what was lost. The colossal change from communism to capitalism, from totalitarianism to democracy, the opening of a candy shop to people who had never known the taste of sweets, the rapid accumulation of wealth and power all led to a further erosion of the trust that so badly needed to be restored.

Where better now to begin to rebuild that trust than with society's youngest members. The future success of our free and democratic society will be measured by our success today in providing its future leaders with the necessary strength of character and sound moral foundation to live up to the challenges ahead. This can only be done by example. We must form creative partnerships between government and business and between parents and teachers in order to achieve this goal.

The introduction of ethics as a part of the elementary school curriculum is a natural place to start. When children grow up surrounded by good manners, by consideration and respect for others, by loving encouragement and in the knowledge that there are limits within which they must move and grow, they will be better equipped for the hurdles of life and they will possess the courage to stand up for what their conscience tells them is right. Good manners are the essential tools of self-discipline in resolving conflict and discord. They make it easier for children to understand that success is achievable by being honest and kind, that ambition must be balanced by humility if the fruits it produces are to endure. A reliable partnership between parents and teachers and between the business community and the nation's schools is sorely needed to create an atmosphere for our children which supports their moral development into responsible adulthood.

Character is formed by age thirteen. The "let it all hang out" attitude that has become so prevalent in our society is not conducive to produce the change we need. We must begin to build accountability for words and deeds at the earliest age. The introduction in elementary school of an ethics program which involves both parents and teachers is key to achieving this and to building a future in which individual responsibility and trust will survive and flourish.

In his October 28, 2011 address to the nation, President Klaus stated that no government policy can solve the problems we face. This, he said, can only be achieved by the thousand little things each one of us does independently – but we must not wait until someone else begins. This timely message was regretfully never picked up by the Czech press. When President Kennedy in a similar address said that we are not here to lay blame on the past, we are here to set the course for the future, every U.S. newspaper applauded his words. Both messages are worthy of thought and action in our day.