I must admit that I was optimistic about a solution for the impending fiscal cliff crisis facing our nation. I even thought that moving beyond the election back in November would allow the politicians to do the right thing for the country. The right thing would be to protect our freedoms and create a pro-growth economy.
Elections and policies have consequences. We have more than enough policies, good and less good, and we have had more than enough elections. The common theme is "more than enough." We cannot afford to keep kicking the can down the road and being passive about the real issues facing our nation. The last four or five years have been tough enough without willingly adding to our national strain.
Regardless of how the election turned out in November, this fiscal cliff was going to be the winner's spoil. We also did not get here overnight. It would seem that either the fiscal cliff is not as big a deal as has been storied, or those in national leadership do not care enough about the country's well being. Leaders reveal their character and priorities by what they choose to address and how they choose to address it. If as much effort had been put into resolving the fiscal cliff as was expended to pass health care legislation then this thing would have been over before it started.
Can we learn anything from where we are right now? Here are a few leadership lessons we can learn from the fiscal cliff, so far, and apply to any organization:
- Leadership is more than making decisions. Anybody can make decisions. Leadership is making decisions with an understanding of the consequences, real and potential, and taking responsibility for these consequences.
- Leaders must be honest and brave. Honesty enables bravery because honesty provides a pure heart and clear conscience. Serious and difficult matters require honesty rather than sensationalism and threats. People are more likely to follow an honest leader through difficult circumstances because his honesty has built trust.
- Debt is dumb. The Bible teaches, "The borrower is slave to the lender" (Proverbs 22:7). Debt causes leaders not to focus on the real issues because they have created distractions and excuses with the debt. Leaders are humans. Humans are susceptible to making poor decisions when debt is a distraction. Control the spending and have a plan for addressing large expenditures without burying the mission and vision under debt.
- Ignoring debt is even dumber. The reality for many organizations is they will choose to operate with some level of debt. But not having a clear and aggressive plan for eliminating that debt is wholly unwise. Debt retirement wears on everyone in the organization. The toll may not be to the same degree on everyone in the group, but revival and forward progress are built on vision and excitement not lingering debt. If there is debt in the organization, then keep it front and center until it is eliminated. When the debt is ignored rather than aggressively eliminated it can become the silent killer of dreams and plans for fulfilling the mission and vision of the organization.
- Leadership decisions affect real people. It is incumbent upon leaders to remember that decisions are not made in a vacuum. There are real people with real lives that will be affected, good or bad, by the decisions that are made. While leaders should not allow themselves to be paralyzed by fear they should also resist the other extreme of frivolity.
- Truth is absolutely necessary. Principles and convictions are only as good as the truth upon which they are founded. In order to lead well a leader must deal with what is real. Truth sets the boundaries for what is right, wrong, acceptable and unacceptable.
- Money issues are rarely about the money. Individuals, couples, families, businesses and governments have money issues generally because we have priority issues. The lure of "more" overrides our better judgment and we make decisions that are not wise. John Rockefeller, one of our nation's wealthiest persons ever, was once asked how much money is enough. His response was, "Just a little more." When the priorities are restored then the money issues tend to start clearing up. Until then, the debt will continue to grow out of control because we will continue throwing money at our problems trying to fix them when that is not the solution. Figure out what is true and real (#6) and then establish your priorities accordingly.
- Mission and vision are essential. The Bible teaches, "Where there is no vision the people are unrestrained" (Proverbs 29:18). A lack of vision leads to an organization not knowing what it exists to accomplish and therefore results in very little being accomplished well. Whether it is the federal government, the locally owned restaurant or the local church. Knowing who you are and why you exist is critical for effectiveness and survival.
- Plan ahead. Failure to plan is planning to fail. No one can possibly know everything. Yet, this does not excuse nor preclude leaders from planning ahead. A little forethought goes a long way when it comes to handling the expected and unexpected along the way. Planning ahead allows leaders time to dream big and think through the details of implementing the dreams.
- Communication is critical. Leaders must remember that in order to lead well one must communicate with others not just talk at them. Too often our pride gets in the way of our being willing and able to communicate with others because we do not listen. The result is that people start yelling at one another because they think the only way to get their message across is to talk louder than the person that is talking to them. However, being willing to listen does not reveal weakness. Being willing to listen helps the leader to know whether or not what he is trying to communicate is actually being communicated. People's questions and comments help us to know whether or not our message was delivered with the correct information and the correct intended attitude. Secure leaders relish the opportunities to strengthen the communication because it strengthens to commitment of the people to the vision. Insecure leaders use their turn at the microphone to deflect blame and launch rhetorical hand grenades that do more harm than good.