[August 20, 2016] The physical presence of a leader is often crucial to the success of that same leader, those who follow, and their mission. This is especially true for those in senior leader positions. Being there helps make a leader. Each time I remind leaders about the negative consequences of an absent leader, I think of the movie Being There starring Peter Sellers and Shirley MacLaine.1
Leadership is about people and the most direct and effective means to show the importance of anything is with the physical presence of a leader. Being there in person is, of course, an essential characteristic of any leader. Distances of geography make it often difficult to be in the right place at the right time, but excuses don’t cut it when people are involved. And the higher the leadership position the more important physical presence becomes.
Yesterday comes word to us that U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump has toured the flood disaster areas of the state of Louisiana; meeting with victims of the flooding, volunteers, and first responders. His presence there is being claimed as a “brilliant maneuver perfectly timed to complement his campaign …”2 Some are calling his tour “presidential” and are contrasting it to his competitor and presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s and president Obama’s conspicuous absences.
Trump gets to show his understanding of leadership and has contrasted himself with the president who “would rather play golf.” While that may be politics as usual it does not distract from the fact that Trump’s visit was a good play on his part as it gives him a springboard to talk and show about how he can be an effective U.S. president.
In military history lore, the last-minute arrival of a senior leader on the battlefield has turned the tide of battle to the leader’s side. The value of the presence of a leader is often undervalued to those who neither understand people nor the principles of leadership. It has been no surprise that many in the media have disparaged Trump’s visit as a “photo op.” Their failure to understand human nature and leader traits shows in their opinionated pieces of news.
Being there helps make a leader and Donald Trump has given us a good example of what makes a leader. Both Clinton and Obama have been upstaged. Expect to see Clinton and Obama in Louisiana soon. Sadly their visits will be seen as copycat behavior of those who were embarrassed by their lack of basic leadership and thus less effective.
[Update] President Obama has announced he will tour Louisiana next week after his vacation is over.
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