Dr. CUMMINGS: Follow the leader

September 1, 2013 

You know the game. A little boy climbs up the ladder to the roof and begins walking across the top. The other kids follow behind, one step after the other just like the lead kid. It’s called “follow the leader.”

Every leader has followers, otherwise he’s not a leader. He’s a risk-taker; maybe even an explorer or an inventor. Many great entrepreneurs come to mind: Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci and Thomas Edison; men who fashioned the world we live in, but not real leaders who inspired men and women to walk on top of the roof with them. Leaders need followers.

How about our elected officials? Are they leaders? They certainly have a roomful of followers the night the votes are counted, and they can lead those people. But how about the 49 percent who didn’t vote for them? How many of our elected officials ever try to reach out to the “other side?” How many understand that their job is now to lead all the people in their district or town or state or country -- not just the half who voted for them?

Not many.

Maybe this is one of the reasons we continue to have such division and dysfunction, such prejudice and hatred, such confusion. People wake up after the election and look to the person who won and wait to be called up the ladder to the roof. But they’re not called; they’re excluded. They don’t hear any words that resonate; they don’t hear any goals that inspire; they don’t hear any values that fit their own. The “election-winners” continue to address their base with the same phrases that got them elected, and, sure, that’s only natural -- for a while. But what about the other half? Who’s going to lead them?

Real leaders can do this. Three Harvard professors, Drs. Roger Fisher, William Ury and Bruce Patton, wrote a classic called: “Getting to Yes.” They explained a way to move beyond conflict to agreement.

When mom and dad are arguing about where to send the kids to school, they can stop and say: “Wait a minute. We disagree about these two schools, but we agree we want the very best we can afford for our kids; let’s say yes to that first.”

Leaders have to address “yes issues.” For example:

• National leaders know that both Democrats and Republicans would say “yes” to more jobs. Actual unemployment (counting those who have given up looking) has risen above 14 percent; millions of Americans are out of work. Our national leaders -- in the White House and in the Congress -- should be joined at the hip, working night and day to lead this whole country to find solutions. We’d all say “yes” to that.

• Macon leaders know that Georgia ranks 13 in the nation for teenage pregnancies at a taxpayer cost of $465 million a year and Bibb County is among the highest in Georgia. Both blacks and whites would say “yes” to reducing teenage pregnancies which lead to poverty and dropouts and crime and overloaded prisons, and our inability to attract job-producing companies to this community. No matter who the elected officials of the new government might be, they could bring together everyone who didn’t vote for them by leading this charge. Who wouldn’t say “yes” to this?

Getting to yes is not difficult. It simply means rising above the issues that divide us and finding the issues that unite us. That’s what real leaders do. It’s how generals win wars; it’s how pastors pack churches; it’s how teachers keep dropouts in school; and yes, it’s how divided communities find their way back together again.

A little boy can lead his friends up the ladder to the roof. Why can’t we find a leader to unite us?

Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corporation and Cummings Management Consultants. His website is digitallydrc.com.

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