Think back twelve years to Sept. 10, 2001. As I was pondering the traits of effective leaders, this date was just slightly over two years earlier.
For those of you living in the United States, the world was completely different that Monday. George W. Bush was in the ninth month of his presidency. His approval numbers through those first months hovered in the 50-55% range, which is a touch below average for a first-term president in his first few months (perhaps driven lower by the manner in which many perceive he came into the office).
All of that changed about 8:46 a.m. (EDT) on Sept. 11, 2001. The coordinated attacks that brought down the World Trade Center, severely damaged the Pentagon and would have struck a third target if not for the courageous acts of a hijacked plane’s passengers over rural Pennsylvania, plunged the U.S. into immediate crisis. Three thousand people on planes and in buildings died that morning.
In the days that followed, G.W. Bush appeared in numerous televised speeches addressing the crisis. And his approval rating, at 55% on September 10, was a record 90% a mere eight days later. You may view the approval numbers from the Gallup Organization here (http://www.gallup.com/poll/116500/presidential-approval-ratings-george-bush.aspx)
What happened? Did President Bush develop his leadership capacity overnight? Was he given a crash-course while circling in Air Force One during the immediate aftermath of the attacks? I am going to suggest that Mr. Bush’s leadership ability had not changed…but the perception of the American people had changed, and changed significantly. The jump in his approval ratings aligned with the desperate desire of a people in crisis to be led.
At the time I crystallized my leadership progression model (the 7 Cs), the U.S. had been at war in Iraq for about nine months. Bush’s approval ratings by this time were hovering in the 60-63% range. When it came time to present the class, I told the attendees that, in all likelihood, as the crisis receded in time, and the people’s “need for a leader” diminished, Mr. Bush’s ratings would continue to slide downward, which the data demonstrates, indeed happened.
This was a significant revelation in my mind: the strength* of leadership borrows more from the response of the led than it does the attributes of the leader.
(Note: I am not debating politics here, so if you feel it necessary to send me rants about Bush stealing the 2000 election, or 9/11 being an inside job, or Barack Obama being born in Kenya, please don’t. I’m merely attempting to call on history and cite statistics to support a theory rooted in the response of the led as opposed to the merits of the leader.)
In evaluating this reality, I developed a leadership progression I refer to as the 7 Cs. It has nothing to do with sailing; the model describes each phase of the progression with a word or phrase beginning with C. The progression will be shared, one C at a time, over the next seven posts. The progression does not necessarily follow this order or include every C, but I did my best to create a meaningful sequence.
In Part 3, the First C: CRISIS
* Note that “strength” of leadership does not necessarily correlate to “quality” of the leadership or the leader. A quick study of the Roman Empire will make that abundantly clear.