Issue September 11, 2007

My scorecard says Beshear 9, Fletcher 0

Gov. Ernie Fletcher and Democratic candidate Steve Beshear
Gov. Ernie Fletcher and Democratic candidate Steve Beshear

Just for a moment, let’s check our prejudices at the door. Let’s just be Kentuckians instead of dividing ourselves into Republicans and Democrats. With that in mind, let’s seriously evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates for Governor, Republican incumbent Ernie Fletcher and Democratic challenger Steve Beshear.

Both are white men. Both are native Kentuckians. Both have been elected to public office more than once. Both claim to have the basic values that they think Kentuckians cherish most.

So now let’s take out our scorecards and evaluate them according to “The Nine C’s of Leadership,” as espoused by Lee Iacocca in his best-selling book, “Where Have All the Leaders Gone?” Iacocca, the former CEO of Ford and Chrysler, is still sharp and active at 82. He has a proven track record of successful leadership in a big and complicated industry.

Ready with your pencils and scorecards? Here are Iacocca’s nine C’s, plus one (he wanted to avoid comparisons with the Ten Commandments):

1. “A leader has to show CURIOSITY. He has to listen to people outside of the ‘Yes, sir’ crowd in his inner circle … If a leader never steps outside his comfort zone to hear different ideas, he grows stale. If he doesn’t put his beliefs to the test, how does he know he’s right? The inability to listen is a form of arrogance. It means either you think you already know it all, or you just don’t care …”
2. “A leader has to be CREATIVE, go out on a limb, be willing to try something different. You know, think outside the box … Leadership is all about managing change — whether you’re leading a company or leading a country. Things change, and you get creative …”
3. “A leader has to COMMUNICATE. I’m not talking about running off at the mouth or spouting sound bites. I’m talking about facing reality and telling the truth … Communication has to start with telling the truth, even when it’s painful …”
4. “A leader has to be a person of CHARACTER. That means knowing the difference between right and wrong and having the guts to do the right thing. Abraham Lincoln once said, ‘If you want to test a man’s character, give him power …’”
5. “A leader must have COURAGE … Swagger isn’t courage. Tough talk isn’t courage … Courage in the 21st century doesn’t mean posturing and bravado … If you’re a politician, courage means taking a position even when you know it will cost you votes …”
6. “To be a leader you’ve got to have CONVICTION — a fire in your belly. You’ve got to have passion. You’ve got to really want to get something done …”
7. “A leader should have CHARISMA. I’m not talking about being flashy. Charisma is the quality that makes people want to follow you. It’s the ability to inspire. People follow a leader because they trust him …”
8. “A leader has to be COMPETENT. That seems obvious, doesn’t it? You’ve got to know what you’re doing. More important than that, you’ve got to surround yourself with people who know what they’re doing …”
9. “You can’t be a leader if you don’t have COMMON SENSE. I call this Charlie Beacham’s rule. When I was a young guy just starting out in the car business, one of my first jobs was as Ford’s zone manager in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. My boss was a guy named Charlie Beacham, who was the East Coast regional manager.

Charlie was a big Southerner, with a warm drawl, a huge smile, and a core of steel. Charlie used to tell me, ‘Remember, Lee, the only thing you’ve got going for you as a human being is your ability to reason and your common sense. If you don’t know a dip of horse—- from a dip of vanilla ice cream, you’ll never make it …’ Former President Bill Clinton once said, ‘I grew up in an alcoholic home. I spent half my childhood trying to get into the reality-based world — and I like it here.’”

The Biggest C is Crisis. “Leaders are made, not born. Leadership is forged in times of crisis. It’s easy to sit there with your feet up on the desk and talk theory. Or send someone else’s kids off to war when you’ve never seen a battlefield yourself. It’s another thing to lead when your world comes tumbling down.”
I have known Beshear for more than 30 years. I worked in the Fletcher administration for a year and a half. My Iacocca scorecard says “Beshear 9, Fletcher 0.” What about yours?
You may pick up your prejudices on your way out and resume shouting.

Kentucky Hall of Fame journalist Billy Reed’s political columns may be found at StraightNFlush.com. Contact the writer at citystrobe@leoweekly.com