Appetite for Leadership

“The Reluctant Leader.” That’s the title of an article published a few days ago in the Financial Times, about Eldar Saetre.Who, you might ask, is Eldar Saetre? He is the chief executive officer of Statoil, a Norwegian company that is the world’s eleventh largest in oil and gas.

While the article is about Saetre generally, the spotlight is on his disinclination to seek attention. Saetre is described as serious, hard-working, and tending toward the taciturn. But the most striking thing about him is his initial reluctance to become chief executive. “I have never had an aspiration to become CEO,” Saetre is quoted as saying. “I didn’t think I would be asked. It was so distant for me.”

I know that Norway is different. I know that Norway has not much in common with the United States – not history, not geography, not size, not culture, not much period. But Norway is not another planet. In fact, Norway shares with the US one Big Thing. Both countries are in the Western liberal tradition. Both countries are Western democracies, which means their ideologies of leadership and followership are more similar than different.

Still, for an American steeped in the circus of 2016 presidential campaign, Saertre is an alien, a leader unlike any with whom we are immediately familiar. Certainly a leader light years away from the craven power-seekers in both parties killing themselves for months on end in the fond hope – in most cases in the distant hope – that one day they might be president.

Given the inhuman demands of an American presidential campaign, only the impossibly wealthy (such as Trump) or the fully retired (such as Clinton and Bush) should run for the White House. The rest inevitably neglect the leadership tasks for which they are responsible right now. During last week’s blizzard Governor Chris Christie decided to leave New Hampshire to return to hard-hit New Jersey only at the last minute, when doing otherwise would have been very politically risky. One of the big raps against Senator Marco Rubio is that being on the campaign trail has turned him into no better than an absentee Senator. And, as to someone like John Kasich, well, he was elected governor of Ohio for the second time in 2014. But less than a year later he announced he was running for president. How can you govern the great state of Ohio from the great state of Iowa, or New Hampshire, or South Carolina?

One could argue that all this says more about the American political system than anything else. Fine. But it also says a hell of a lot about the candidates’ appetite for leadership, which apparently is insatiable.

No Saetre Santorum.









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