Political debates go way back. The most famous early series of debates took place in 1858 between former Rep. Abraham Lincoln and Sen. Stephen A. Douglas. They participated in 7 debates and they were nothing like today’s debates. There was no moderator and the debates lasted 3 hours. One of the candidates would open with an hour speech. His opponent would then have an hour and a half to offer a rebuttal. Then the candidate who opened the debate would have a half hour to make closing remarks. At the next debate, the other candidate would open and close. Many believe that Douglas was a better speaker and debater than Lincoln who went on to become one of the best and most famous presidents in American history.
Over the course of history, many people have been good public speakers and debaters but lack a number of leadership skills and vice versa. Moses was not a good speaker. He had his brother Aaron do the majority of his speaking to the Hebrews, but there is no doubt that Moses was a great and strong leader.
One of the earliest lessons I learned about the business world was from a man I always looked up to. He grew up poor and was never wealthy. He worked his way up to being a foreman for a large utility before he had any college education. He taught me three lessons to success and leadership. (1) Never tell your people to do something that you are not willing to do yourself – in other words lead by example. (2) Always treat your people the way you want others to treat you. (3) Listen to your people before speaking and acting.
That man was my dad and when I started working at the same utility after he retired, I found out that every worker there held him in great respect and hated to see him retire. He was liked by his bosses as much as he was by his employees. I was told by so many that he had great leadership skills and accomplished more than most of the other foreman.
When I worked my way up to management, I followed the advice of my dad, including listening to my employees and customers and then acted. I also found out that when I spoke first before listening that my actions weren’t as successful. I’ve seen the same thing in a number of others in leadership positions. Those that listened more than they spoke usually made the best leaders and accomplished more.
Most Americans are shallow and look at what’s on the surface without digging below the surface. They listened to the magical words of a little known politician from Chicago by the name of Barack Obama. He spoke eloquently and debated well against Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney. Too many Americans listened to his flowery words and ignored looking at his background which still remains mostly hidden and should have sent up warning flags everywhere. Obama rarely listens to the people before issuing his dictates and destroying our nation. A great speaker yes, but he is the worst leader our nation has ever had.
As the political debates get under way, I can’t help but remember the lessons I learned from my dad. Some of the candidates are great debaters, but does that make them great leaders? On the flip side, some of the candidates have struggled through the debates and I have to wonder if they could be better leaders than speakers. Before making my decision on whom to vote for, I plan on looking below the surface to learn more about who they really are and if I believe they’ll make a great leader. That’s far more important than their ability to speak and debate.