Leaders and Light Bulbs


Once upon a time, long, long ago, I ran an organization. Well, I’ve run several organizations, but in this instance, after a few years of leading and managing, I was ready to move on to something else. And I did, in good conscience. For I was leaving behind a going concern that was humming along, as within the timeframe of just a few years my colleagues and I had established an enterprise that by every measure was successful.

Though I was a leadership scholar as well as a leadership practitioner, I left said slot under the illusion, the delusion, that what we had put in place would remain in place. That all the good work we had done would not, could not, in short order be undone. Well, dear reader, I was wrong. Very wrong. In not much more than a year, much of what we had initiated and then carefully crafted bit the dust, hit the cutting room floor, never again to see the light of day.  A leadership lesson learned – the hard way. Whatever you build up, your successor can quite quickly, rather easily, tear down.

It’s a lesson that comes to mind regularly, as it’s not uncommon for a leader to erase the work, that is, some of the work, of his or her immediate predecessor. However, during the presidency of Donald Trump it’s a lesson of which I’m reminded virtually weekly. Virtually weekly Trump obliterates one or another of Barack Obama’s policy achievements. If it were up to Trump, Obama, not to speak of his record, would be, apparently, wiped from the history books, so eager does the former seem to erase any vestige of the latter.  

U.S. as participant in the Paris climate agreement? No longer. U.S. as participant in the Iran nuclear agreement? No longer. U.S. as participant in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement? No longer. U.S. as proponent of … making light bulbs more efficient? No longer.

What? It was President George W. Bush who first signed (in 2007) a law mandating that light bulbs use less energy. To be sure, it was Obama who pushed this environmentally friendly initiative even further, who expanded the legislative ban that Bush pushed through to include more types of lights. No matter: Trump knocked down not just what one of his predecessors had built up, but two.

Trump said he mandated the policy change because “I always look orange and so do you. The light is the worst.” Was he trying to be funny? No matter. The point is instead of being a builder, Trump’s a demolisher. Of course there’s the more general point as well. Leader beware! He or she who succeeds you could wreck what you wrought!  

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