Has The Bush Presidency Struck An Iceberg?

A new set of poll numbers reveals that George Bush is facing one of the gravest issues confronting any leader, the distrust of the people.  The President can deal with this issue only by putting into action a leadership principle that has been used by leaders throughout history.

By Brent Filson - 2005

A lesser known aspect of the sinking of the Titanic took place right when the great ship struck an iceberg.  There wasn't a huge, jarring crash but a gentle shudder the length of the ship.  No passengers and few of the crew knew anything was amiss.  In fact, some passengers actually put shards of ice sprinkled on the decks into their drinks and continued their merry making.
 
A recent Washington Post-ABC news poll reminds me of that shudder passing through the Titanic.  The poll reveals that for the first time in his presidency, more than half the country questions Bush's personal integrity. 
 
Up till now, Bush has experienced a steady decline in his approval ratings, from upwards of 60 percent approval at the beginning of the year to 38 percent today, the lowest of his presidency.  The decline has worried administration aides and given Bush's critics cheer; but it's really no big deal.  In leadership endeavors, declining approval ratings are not particularly troubling.  Many leaders have done great things while being unpopular with the people.  There is no correlation between the popularity of a leader and that leader's capacity to get great results.  On the contrary, in many cases, there is an inverse correlation, since to get great results, leaders often have to do unpopular things.  As long as Bush's base holds, he can live with low ratings and still lead this nation the way he sees fit. 
 
However, the new poll is like the submerged ice-razor that lacerated the Titanic's hull.  The poll shows that only 40 percent of Americans view him as honest and trustworthy while 58 percent have doubts about his honesty.  If Bush doesn't deal with this issue, the remaining years of his presidency will be a calamity.  For in trying to push through his programs and lead the country and the world in the war on terror, he'll be thwarted by popular indignation.  
 
In a democracy, as in many organizations, a leader who has lost the trust of people, has lost the most important asset h/she possesses.
 
To understand why, we must understand what true leadership is about.  It's not about ordering people about but marshaling them to become committed to one's leadership.  One may do unpopular things and still earn that commitment from people -- as long as they trust and respect the leader.  But people will not be so willing to give that commitment to a leader they don't trust.  And once trust is lost, it is practically impossible for the leader to get it back. 
 
These new poll numbers represent a gentle shudder, betokening  catastrophic damage, going through his presidency.  Will he and Cheney and company see it for what it is, a mortal danger to his leadership and ultimately to the administration, or will they continue to do business as usual: be secretive, be unilateral, be oblivious to mistakes, be strategically blind?
 
Bush can get back on track and be a highly effective leader throughout the remainder of his term.  But he can only do it by manifesting this single principle that has defined great leaders throughout history. It's this: Whenever ordinary people needed to accomplish extraordinary things, one thing had to take place, a leader had to go to the people and speak from the heart. It's as simple as that -- and as profound and complicated as that.  For it will involve, for starters, giving not just one speech but a whole series of heartfelt talks across the nation, talks right now focusing on the War in Iraq.  Meanwhile he should capitalize on the December 15th Iraqi elections to put forth a bold new vision, and a strategy and tactics to realize that vision, for the War.       
 
Is George Bush up to the task?  Or does he suffer from the worst kind of ignorance: He doesn't know that he doesn't know?
 
Lethal, beneath-the-surface damage has been identified.  I hope for the sake of the country that he and his aides heed its counsel.

 

2005© The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

The author of 23 books, Brent Filson's recent books are, THE LEADERSHIP TALK: THE GREATEST LEADERSHIP TOOL and 101 WAYS TO GIVE GREAT LEADERSHIP TALKS. He is founder and president of The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. – Celebrating 25 years of helping leaders of top companies worldwide achieve outstanding results every day. Sign up for his free leadership e-zine and get his FREE report "7 Steps To Leadership Mastery"