Lessons in Leadership
By this point, most folks have heard the tale of the waitress who refused a tip from the governor this past week. She took her final day on the job as on opportunity to spoon feed a bit of criticism to Brownback via a tool she had at her disposal. The media has, of course, ran with this as if she’d flung a pie into his face. She’s been the target of praise, and a pretty fair amount of rebuke. Then something caught my eye.
For the most part, I didn’t think this issue worth talking about, since the governor brings criticism on himself pretty willfully — until today. And I’m not going to talk about school funding or education or taxes or any of that. No, what I’m going to talk about is leadership. I have very strong views on this subject, because real leadership I think is one of the lacking qualities across the board in our government. I’m reminded of the image below in the matter.
So, how does that come into play here? Allow me to quote from the article I linked in the end of the first paragraph.
A top Kansas Republican official is pushing back against a Topeka waitress who declined a tip from Gov. Sam Brownback and calling out the media for drawing attention to her “arrogant stupidity.” Clay Barker, Kansas GOP director, criticized the media and Chloe Hough, the waitress, in a Facebook comment under a story by posted by KSN TV in Wichita. “So you are publicizing her arrogant stupidity and utter ignorance. Typical liberal KS media,” Barker wrote. Kansas GOP director: Media drawing attention to waitress’ ‘arrogant stupidity’; The Topeka-Capital Journal
Do we really want to talk about arrogance and stupidity when using phrasing like this to discuss citizens of your state? Especially as someone in a position of power in the political party? This isn’t how a leader is supposed to talk. Hell, this isn’t how civilized people should talk about one another, especially an older man about a young girl. There is so much wrong here, such a lack of humility, that it’s actually a pretty poignant view on just what is wrong with our governmental leadership in the state and country. Mr. Barker should be ashamed of himself.
First, he does this all on Facebook. Because nothing says highbrow like a trolling Facebook comment, am I right? I think this is also an appropriate time to remind folks of when the Kansas Democrats fired their director of communication over insulting comments he made online. $10 says no one bats an eye at Barker though. It’s easy to be an internet tough guy, I’d be really curious to see if he’d hold up that way to her face.
Secondly, this just isn’t how you handle conflict in a public setting. For all the criticisms I have over how overly PC people can be, calling someone ignorant and arrogantly stupid might be cutting things a bit too honestly. Instead, he could have said, “While we appreciate this young lady’s attempt to voice her concern over issues faced by the state, we stand by our policy and firmly believe in its ultimate success for ensuring the highest quality education for our citizens’ children. If you aren’t sure yourself, you can review our projections and resources at [yadda yadda yadda].” Use it as a teaching moment. Leverage it. Turn that strength against the “typical liberal KS media.” What Barker did was simply lash out, carelessly, and without poise or tact.
Third — and this is a big one to me — speaking that way of your opposition is not how you win the hearts and minds of the “competition,” it’s how you create enemies and set yourself up for failure. Because that’s ultimately what policy posturing is all about. It’s one thing to win legislation by brute force. It’s another to secure legislation by actually getting buy in from the opposition, and stating arguments in a way that, at the very least, sets you up to be a greasy monkey in the fight (which is to say, always make sure you leave an out). Name calling and ad hominem attacks don’t do that. It just says that you don’t even care. And we all have to live here. Just because we disagree on policies doesn’t make someone wrong. It just means we see different paths to success. Good leadership understands that and knows how to use it. It’s just sort of sad to me that Mr. Barker had no other way to articulate his thoughts. As a result, it doesn’t make me feel sympathetic to his or Brownback’s position, I just pity them.
Don’t be a dick. It all comes back to what I started with. What Mr. Barker demonstrated was an absolute void of leadership skills. He has power, and a soapbox, but no leadership skill. And the same can be said for way too many people in Topeka. He should be ashamed, and his party should be ashamed for letting him get away with it (if they do, which I suspect they will). Even Brownback could stand up and use this as an opportunity to educate, and to show that he’s above that kind of mudslinging at one of his citizens. He could be the bigger man. We’re all in this together, after all, and it pisses me off that people in power here are such glaringly bad stewards of that power.
Where have all the leaders gone?
Originally published at kansanity.com on May 4, 2015.