BATH — Speaking as one who had opposed the election of Donald Trump, I believe most Americans felt that his speech to Congress, except for the reference to the construction of the wall, presented a leadership vision to inspire our efforts.
With humility, I would like to try to frame a response those Americans might support.
While all of us will view this vision from different eyes, I believe there may be a strong consensus that would support a focus on reviving the dignity of the many disadvantaged Americans, the effort to seek jobs and establish health care for everyone and the rebuilding of our infrastructure and strengthening our military.
I also think we would respond to the challenge of completing this program on our 250th birthday in 2026, much like John F. Kennedy’s challenge to put a man on the moon in a single decade.
But having lived through the Depression and World War II, I believe that fulfilling this challenge would require a truly great leader. In the darkest of times, Franklin Roosevelt was able to rally us by simply saying, “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.”
America is a very complex nation of free people who think for themselves, and whose institutions are built on a basic respect for the individual. That Roosevelt was able to maintain this deep trust of free-thinking individuals during those difficult years certainly defined him as a great leader.
So how does one of us become such a great leader?
I was fortunate to have as a Hyde parent Warren Bennis, who then graciously became an adviser to me and Hyde Schools. Until his death last year, it is fair to say Warren was known as the world’s guru on leadership, writing countless books on leadership and counseling presidents.
Warren firmly equated two things: personal growth and leadership. Organizations today focus training programs on personal growth as a means to develop performance and leadership.
This leadership focus on personal growth is not new. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, who led our Gulf War efforts in the 1990s, observed, “Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy.”
I believe that President Trump sincerely seeks to be a great leader. I don’t want to sound like a know-it-all, but I believe that anyone who understands leadership and how America functions knows he must make some significant personal growth changes if he hopes to become that great leader.
In those early years of Hyde Schools, when we ran into problems, I had a student named Rick who would come to my office, talk about it and say, “Maybe you’re failing as headmaster.” He helped me learn humility by making me look first at myself as the cause of our problems, not at others. Humility is essential to the right relationship between the president and free-thinking people. So a great president must:
• Transcend his ego. This is not about what he achieves; this is about what he is able to help Americans achieve. It is their country; he needs to help them realize their potential to meet the challenge. They will earn the victory; but he will experience perhaps the deepest satisfaction of his life in helping them do it.
• Establish trust. Be rigorously truthful. He must try to tell people what they really want to know, not what he wants to tell them. People know the difference. By getting honest, they are able to identify with and trust a leader who is imperfect and human.
• Always take the high road. He is launching a new vision for 325 million free-thinking people. Everything he does can inspire them and their efforts to achieve it. However, whenever he takes a lower road, so will they.
• Develop a strong sense of integrity. The Catholics have a pope; Americans have a president. The new order of his priorities: family, then the American people, then himself. (He knows where his religion fits.) We hope it becomes a mark of pride that his presidential integrity reflects this.
Mr. President, you are an American and a very successful one. Many of us strongly hope this challenge appeals to you.