How to Tell if You’re a Leader or a Politician

A so-called debate took place last night among Republican candidates for US President. This “dog-and-pony show” took place at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, for two reasons: (1) Ronald Reagan, a former President, is considered the paragon of Republican virtue by many; and (2) the ex-President would’ve been 100 years old earlier this year.

Eight individuals attempted to make a case for why they should represent the Republican Party in the 2012 elections. Talking points abounded but little, if any, substance shone through. Each candidate talked about what they wanted to talk about, sticking assiduously to their scripts even as they were lobbed soft questions. The apparent aim of these putative candidates (with a couple of glaring exceptions) was to evade controversy and reason.

Basically, they were preaching to the choir. Most who watched the debate — and virtually all who didn’t — had made up their minds well in advance. It’s safe to say no one’s mind was changed by what transpired last evening.

“What does this have to do with my business?”, you’re doubtlessly wondering. Your business isn’t a democracy. You’re not running for president of your company.

You are interested in expanding your customer base and retaining the customers you have, though. In that sense, you are somewhat like a presidential candidate. You need to get more votes…more “likes”…more income.

The question is: How far are you willing to go (or, how low will you stoop) to build your customer base? Would you risk alienating some (perhaps many) prospects by telling them the truth? Or, would you tell a potential customer what you think they want to hear and worry later — if at all — about the consequences of making promises?

He was a most teachable man, and asked questions with a childlike simplicity which would have been too much for the false pride of many a man far less well informed. His fund of knowledge was, as he himself declared, very largely made up of information obtained in conversation.
(Wm. O. Stoddard on his boss, Abraham Lincoln)

Have you ever — just a little — inflated your organization’s track record? Have you ever considered how you might make your company look good by making the competition look bad?

Have you ever stopped to consider whether your action was the popular thing to do or the right thing to do? Are you engaging your customers, prospects, site visitors, and so on in dialogues? Or, are you sticking to your talking points and expecting that they’ll resonate with enough people?

How you answer these questions will determine if you’re a leader or merely a politician.


  1. Woodward, Calvin, and Kuhnhenn, Jim, “Fact Check: Perry, Romney Twist Records in Debate”, Associated Press, 8 Sept 2011 –
  2. “Ron Paul Debate: Rick Perry Physically Grabs Him, Points at His Face”, International Business Times, 8 Sept 2011 –
  3. Scherer, Michael, “What You Missed While Not Watching Last Night’s Reagan Library Debate”, TIME Online, 8 Sept 2011 –

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Posted in Leadership

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