Leadership – Style Matters

Broadly speaking our fixation on leaders is centered on two distinct phenomena: the leader’s substance and the leader’s style. By substance I mean the content of what a leader does or tries to do. For example, to ask about President Joe Biden’s leadership on China is to ask about the content of his administration’s policy as it pertains to China. And to ask about Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s leadership on Bitcoin is to ask about the content of his company’s policy as it pertains to cryptocurrency.

Similarly, to describe Biden as moderate, collaborative, and transactional is to describe his leadership style – how he performs, how he interacts, how he gets other people to do what he wants them to do. And to describe Musk as immoderate, innovative, and transformational is to describe his leadership style – how he performs, interacts, gets other people to do what he wants them to do.      

This distinction, between substance and style, is at the heart of the recent kerfuffle – or is it a scandal? –  involving New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Scion of one of the most formidable figures ever in New York politics, the late Governor Mario Cuomo, the current governor was once thought to have it all. Brash and good looking, educated, and smart, and with a resume to match. He served in the Cabinet of President Bill Clinton, as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. And for over a decade he has served as governor of New York State.

Moreover, no one ever questioned his dedication or competence. He has worked hard as New York’s chief executive and has has gotten things done. In fact, notwithstanding several serious mistakes during the early months of the pandemic, spring 2020 was a time during which Governor Cuomo seem to flower. Most prominent were his daily news conferences which showed him and his team, including doctors and scientists, to best advantage. They were excellent events especially in comparison with their wretched counterparts, briefings held by the White House dominated by President Donald Trump. Trump was reliably ignorant, withholding, and narcissistic; while Cuomo was reliably informative, forthcoming, and empathetic. New Yorkers loved Cuomo’s briefings and they loved him. People across the country had Cuomo-envy.  

Remarkable then to see him – just in the last week – crash to the ground. Some of the errors of Cuomo’s ways are said to be about substance. He has been charged with fudging figures: underreporting thousands of deaths of nursing home residents. But other of his errors were about style. His leadership style now widely reported to have been, for many years, bullying. There had long been rumors about Governor Cuomo being borderline abusive. But they were random, scattered, never close to constituting a critical mass. Now though the stories are consistent, focused, and accumulated. Reports of his yelling and screaming at his administrative underlings; threatening and intimidating his legislative colleagues; and demeaning and debasing members of the press have mushroomed. Cropped up all over the place, his many longtime adversaries and even enemies, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio high on the list, rubbing their hands and licking their chops in unmitigated Schadenfreude. How delicious!

If these stories signal Governor Cuomo’s impending political demise it will not be because he fudged figures, deliberately lied – or had subordinates lie for him. It will not be, in other words, because of substance. For it is relatively easy to backtrack on substance or even, if necessary, abjectly to apologize. However, to apologize for being a miserably bad boss, an aggressive and unreliable colleague, a nasty man with a short fuse and mean temper is not so easy. Which goes to show that while substance matters style matters more.           

Trump Dumped

“He wasn’t found guilty as charged,” you say. “By a large majority Republican Senators voted to exonerate him,” you say. “After his second impeachment trial he got another pass,” you say. All true, of course. Technically, legally.

But politically is a different story. Politically the man’s finished, over, done for, passe, yesterday’s news, history, out of here. Yes, I predict that Donald J. Trump’s life in American politics is over. Forever.

I recognize of course that this is not the conventional wisdom. The conventional wisdom has it that he is far from down for the count. That he has plenty of money in his kitty. That he is free to play an oversized role in Republican Party politics. And that if he so decides he can even run again for president of the United States. I further recognize that to foretell the future is foolish – that I’m on a fool’s errand.

Still, there are these ten truths:

  1. Most Americans supported convicting Trump (albeit by a narrow margin).
  2. More Republicans oppose Trump – both within the Senate and without – than would have been thought possible even a month ago.
  3. American demographics suggest that unless the Republican party broadens its base, widens its appeal to the American body politic it is unlikely to win elections at the national level.
  4. Trump is facing a boatload of legal challenges he will have to address. Each of these will be a drain not only on his reputation, but on his pocketbook.
  5. Trump is sort of old – he is in any case not young, 74 years of age, not 54. His timeframe then is shorter than it is longer.
  6. Trump is becoming tiresome. His act, once arguably entertaining, is wearing thin.
  7. Trump’s business has suffered because his brand has suffered. Trump’s brand has become in many places, both at home and abroad, an embarrassment bad for business.
  8. The historical record has been set in stone. The proceedings of this most recent of Senate impeachment trials are now a permanent part of the American experiment.
  9. Even one month in President Joe Biden has provided the American people with a critical contrast. Especially as it pertains to the pandemic, the difference in competence between this administration and the last is already amply in evidence. Moreover Biden’s approval rating nationwide stands at least for now at an impressive 62%.
  10. Though his verdict was “not guilty,” Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell gave a speech immediately subsequent that was stunningly accusatory. Whatever the charges against McConnell – for desperately trying to thread the needle – truth is he gave the nation a great political gift. In language as lacing as anyone’s, including every member of the Democratic opposition, McConnell charged Trump with behaviors tantamount to crimes.  

I think McConnell more responsible than any other single individual for dumping Trump. Here in small part is what he said.

  • “January 6th was a disgrace.”
  •  “It happened because fellow Americans had been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on Earth.”   
  • “Former President Trump’s actions preceding the riot were a disgraceful dereliction of duty.”
  • “The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president.”
  • “It was obvious that only President Trump could end [the attack on the Capitol]. Former aides publicly begged him to do so. Loyal allies frantically called the administration. But the president did not act swiftly. He did not do his job. He didn’t take steps so federal law could be faithfully executed and order restored. Instead, according to public reports, he watched television happily as the chaos unfolded. He kept pressing his scheme to overturn the election!” (Italics mine.)

Bad leadership is exceedingly difficult to excise. All the more reason then to acknowledge and even celebrate when it happens. When good trumps evil.

Fauci – Follower

“It was a tough situation, it really was.” The speaker was Dr. Anthony Fauci, in conversation with MSNBC host Rachel Maddow on January 23. He was describing what it was like to serve during the pandemic in the administration of former president Donald Trump.

I have written before about Fauci’s role in the Trump administration, for example in a piece posted on December 5 titled, “Fauci’s Failure.” https://barbarakellerman.com/faucis-failure/  Still, for someone with my interests – as much in followership as in leadership – it seems important to do so again now, for three reasons.

First, more than anyone else Fauci has been able to surmount the stain of having been an integral member of Trump’s pandemic posse. He not only emerged from the experience unscathed he has become the most visible member of President Joe Biden’s pandemic posse.

Second, in witnessing Trump’s second impeachment trial I cannot help but wonder yet again about his legions of followers – in this case most Republican members of the U.S. Senate. What were they thinking during the time of the Big Lie – the two-month period after the election in early November and before the insurrection in early January? What exactly was it that made them mute as the president continued, tirelessly, relentlessly, repeatedly to regurgitate a flagrant falsehood?

And third is an extended interview that Fauci gave to a reporter for the New York Times in late January, in which he discussed at length his rationale for having stayed in the service of a superior who in his own political interest undermined the public interest . https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/24/health/fauci-trump-covid.html

In his interview with the Times Fauci acknowledged the following:

  • That Trump invariably downplayed the bad news – of which there was plenty. Much of the time the former president simply ignored what he did not want to hear.
  • That Trump repeatedly conveyed false information – sometimes dangerously false information based on personal anecdote as opposed to scientific data.
  • That because Fauci came to be regarded as a bit of a contrarian he, his wife, and his children were harassed and threatened, subjected to attacks by right-wing extremists that went on for months.  
  • That because Fauci increasingly felt ineffective as well as endangered, he increasingly felt “anxious.” At one point in the interview, Fauci said something that happened had made him “really concerned.” At another point in the interview, he described his “anxiety as starting to escalate.” At still another point in the interview he admitted that he was “getting anxious.” He even volunteered that, “we started getting into things I felt were unfortunate and somewhat nefarious.” Interesting choice of a word by Fauci, for the definition of a “nefarious” act is one that is “wicked or criminal.”

The Times interviewer asked Fauci if he ever thought about quitting – leaving the administration in protest. To which he replied, “Never. Never. Nope.” To Fauci’s credit he admitted that his wife raised the possibility.  And, according to him, he and his wife did discuss it. But Fauci would have none of it. He wanted to stay in his post and so he justified it by saying, “I always felt that if I did walk away, the skunk at the picnic would no longer be at the picnic.”  

We will never know what would have happened had this skunk made a stink. We do know that he did not. And we do know that as of today some 468,000 Americans have died of Covid-19 – a ghastly national tragedy that is a ghastly national embarrassment.

Brady – Leader

Americans have run out of superlatives. Like Tom Brady or loathe Tom Brady – football fans come down on one side or the other – it is impossible to deny him his sensational stats.

But what has been underappreciated is Brady as a leader. He is a preternaturally gifted athlete. And he has become over time exemplary as a role model.

Brady is a man of few words and he is not prone to barking orders. Moreover, for two decades he was teamed with New England Patriots’ coach, Bill Belichick, who is famously daunting in his own right. They explain why Brady’s professional authority and personal influence were long downplayed or even ignored. But once he moved from New England to Tampa Bay, there was no mistaking it. During the last year Brady put on display his prowess as a leader of men – specifically of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, their players and yes, their coaches.        

Brady is a leader who has lusted, lifelong, for success. Lust is a psychological drive that produces intense wanting, even desperately needing to obtain an object or secure a circumstance. However, even after that drive has been satisfied, it does not stop. There is relief – but only briefly. Lust is lifelong – which is why Tom Brady continues, despite all the fame and fortune anyone could possibly want, to crave success. Individual success as a football player. Collective success on the football field. Global success as a world class athlete.

Brady’s lust for success largely explains not just his record as a player but his record as a leader. Unlike his talent for football, which in part is because he is a great natural athlete, his talent for leadership was not inborn. It was acquired. Acquired over time precisely because of his prowess and fearlessness.

Let’s be clear: Brady has continued to play against all logic. Logic would have dictated he retired years ago. But despite every time Brady steps onto a field he takes a risk he will get hurt, he has persisted in playing, lust trumping, as it always does, logic.

The wellspring of his leadership is not, then, Brady’s interpersonal skill. It is his skill, still, as a player. His skill in addition to his fierce ambition, his relentless determination, and his extreme work ethic. For years Brady as a leader was overshadowed by the leadership of Belichick.  But once Brady moved to Tampa Bay those days were over. Brady has shone during the last year. He led primarily by example – less by what he said than by who he was and what he did.

Brady recruited to the team invaluable assets such as his former teammate, the ostensibly retired Ron Gronkowski, who played a pivotal role in this year’s Super Bowl game. Brady lifted the Buccaneers from the middle of the pack to the top of the heap. And Brady brought to Tampa the glory that comes with the trophy – the Vince Lombardi Trophy that is awarded each year to the winning team of the National Football League’s championship game. 

Meantime this season at least the Patriots languished. They still had their longtime coach, Belichick, but they did not have their longtime quarterback, Brady. Clearly his skill as a player was missed. But seems his leadership was missed even more. Belichick found it hard to let Brady stand out as a leader. In contrast, Brady’s new coach, the Buccaneers’ Bruce Arians, has no such problem. Arians encouraged Brady to shine every which way, both as a player and as a leader. In January he said of his quarterback and his teammates, “When he talks, they listen.”    

Obviously, Brady is an exemplar of singular, supreme athletic accomplishment. Less obviously he is an exemplar of someone who has used his natural but narrow gift to become something else altogether. An outstanding leader who in his early middle age is in more ways than one a force to be reckoned with.

Leaders, Leaders, Everywhere. Where?

What is a leader? Who is a leader? How is a “leader” defined?

As every student of leadership knows, to these questions are hundreds of different answers. For the purposes of this piece I’ll keep it simple. I’ll assume – as most of us do- that leaders are people in positions of authority. For example, a CEO of a large company is a leader. But what if that CEO does not lead? More precisely, what if that CEO does not lead other than inside his or her own company? Does it suffice, in other words, for leaders of organizations in business, or in education, or in religion, or in any place else for that matter to say little or nothing about the larger context within which their organizations are located? Even if that larger context is being derailed, not to speak of despoiled?

In my book Bad Leadership, I developed a typology of bad leadership. One of the seven types of bad leadership was Insular Leadership. Insular Leadership is when “the leader and at least some followers minimize or disregard the health and welfare of ‘the other’ – that is, those outside the group or organization for which they are directly responsible.” My hypothesis was it will not suffice for leaders to lead only those who are their subordinates. Good leaders, have a larger, social responsibility. Which is why, to take an obvious example, leaders of fossil fuel companies should long ago have acknowledged, and acted on, their further obligations. Obligations that extend beyond the companies for which they are directly responsible. That extend to the preservation of the planet for the benefit of generations to come.

The syndrome of insular leadership came to mind again recently, when in the wake of the attack on the U.S. Capitol, the captains of American industry finally found their tongues. They finally found the fortitude to speak up and out against President Donald Trump who during the entirety of his time in the White House had been as obviously corrupt as incompetent.

Notwithstanding the unprecedented deficits of the Trump administration, leaders in American business were mute both on his ethics and effectiveness. They had struck a Faustian bargain, agreeing to scratch his back if only he would scratch theirs. Scratch theirs by, for instance, bestowing on them corporate tax cuts from which they stood handsomely to benefit. Presumably, some among America’s corporate titans were true believers. Steven Schwartzman, for example, CEO of Blackstone, was such an ardent Trump supporter it’s possible to imagine he meant what he said.  But, based on their public records as well as subsequent statements, most did not. Most corporate leaders did what Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, said they did. They subjugated their moral principles to what their perceived their business interests. But, as Walker pointed out, the compromises they made were “ultimately bad for business and bad for society.”   

No sense blaming only business leaders for being bystanders. As suggested, leaders in other places, such as in higher education, are equally to blame for their failure to be heard during a four-year period that, one could reasonably argue, led inexorably to an attempted coup. History has taught us that silence does not suffice. History has taught us that tyrants must be stopped before they start. History has taught us that leaders must lead lest they follow.

Follower Power – 2021

The argument that I made in my 2012 book, The End of Leadership, has been reconfirmed, and then reconfirmed yet again. The argument was basically this. That given the trajectory of history, and given the changes in culture and in technology, leaders were losing power and followers were gaining it.  This argument applied then as it does now to every liberal democracy. In fact, it applied then as it does now to every group or organization any place on the planet that is other than under a tyrant’s thumb.

In the month that so far is 2021, there have, for example, been these four significant displays of follower power. Of followers upending, or threatening to, leaders who seem on the surface to hold all the cards.  

  • At great risk to themselves, protesters across Russia have taken to the streets to press against Putin-the-authoritarian to support the heroic renegade, Alexei Navalny.
  • Republicans in the U.S. Senate have resolutely refused to follow their longtime leader, Mitch McConnell. As the New York Times put it, McConnell “carefully nudged open the door for his party to kick Donald J. Trump to the curb, only to find it slammed shut.”
  • Experts have quit their posts rather than be humiliated by those ostensibly in charge. Whether these are former president Trump’s legal advisors or present governor Andrew Cuomo’s medical advisors, at least some subordinates prefer to leave rather than stay if their superiors insist on being stupid and, or, stubborn.
  • Reddit’s WallStreetBets has taken the trend to which I refer to a new arena. In a direct challenge to the Wall Street elite, especially but not exclusively hedge fund managers, ordinary people are upending traditional trading models. As I write silver has surged, suddenly, to its highest price in years not because of Wall Street but because of Main Street. Because of a brigade of day-traders demanding finally to get in on the action.

“The Times They Are a-Changin’”

Putin Patrol Continued…. His Nemesis Revisits

I cannot possibly describe what happened in Russia this weekend as well as Joshua Yaffa, who posted his eye-witness piece to The New Yorker.

Navalny’s Long-Running Battle with Putin Enters a New Phase | The New Yorker

What I can do though is this: Sketch on a larger canvas where we are in this long running and ongoing struggle between Goliath, Vladimir Putin, on the one side, and David, Alexei Navalny, on the other.  

  • Navalny, who began his life as an activist on a platform of anti-corruption, has been a thorn in Putin’s side for at least the last ten years.
  • Over time Navalny has evolved from political nuisance to Putin to political threat to Putin. Not yet, as Yaffa’s article makes clear, a mortal threat. But a palpable threat, nevertheless.
  • For his troubles Navalny has paid a heavy price. In addition to being relentlessly harassed and intimidated, he has been repeatedly arrested and imprisoned. And, last summer, he was poisoned. So toxic was the attempt on his life – unquestionably with Putin’s complicity – that initially it was unclear he would survive.
  • To recover his health in the wake of this last, worst attack, Navalny was moved to Germany. This transport could not, obviously, have happened without the approval of the Russian government.  No question Putin assumed Navalny would be gone, even if not dead at least out of Russia for good.
  • But, for Putin no such luck. After months Navalny was restored to reasonably good health. And, almost as soon as he was able, Navalny announced, to the astonishment both his friends and enemies, that he would by absolutely not remain abroad, he would return to Russia.
  • Which, last week, he did. Navalny – an internet expert and activist – had made sure the world would be watching his landing. But, still, he was arrested immediately upon setting foot on Russian soil.
  • Navalny continues to drive Putin mad not just by embodying the Russian opposition, but by disclosing the extent of Putin’s lust, specifically of his endless, outsized greed. For at this point in his life Putin’s lust for money is greater than his lust for anything else. In fact, if Putin’s lust for power had rivaled his lust for money he would long ago have disposed of Navalny once and for all.

Ironically, by failing to kill Navalny the Russian government has created a hero. This weekend’s widespread protests, across Russia, all of which were pro Navalny and anti Putin, suggest that Navalny will long be remembered as singularly courageous member of the Russian opposition.

What has Putin learned from this experience? For that matter what have other leaders similarly disposed – similarly intent on holding on, permanently if possible, to power – learned from this experience?

It’s really very simple. If in the third decade of the 21st century you are a leader who wants your followers to submit – to mildly and meekly toe the line – it’s up to you to keep them in line. Autocrats cannot afford to give their followers an inch, lest they take a mile. In other words, if you are an autocrat, and if you want to remain an autocrat, you cannot let up. You must continue without surcease to rule with an iron fist.     

Hiring a Leader

The best way to avoid having a bad leader is not to hire a bad leader – not to bring on a bad leader in the first place. Of course, in many if not most situations who leads is out of our control. In the workplace, for example, most of us have no say in who leads or even manages. However, in liberal democracies we do have a voice. Might not be much of a voice but a voice – a vote – it still is. Which raises the question of what we do with that vote.

It is widely agreed even now that former president Donald J. Trump will be ranked by experts as the worst president, by far, in American history. Which raises another question: how did he become president in the first place? Obviously, he became the nation’s chief executive because though he never won most of the popular vote, in the 2016 election he won enough electoral votes to put him over the top. Americans always complain about the deficits of the electoral college, but they seem, so far anyway, incapable of doing anything about it. Further, in the 2020 election, notwithstanding Trump’s dismal track record as president, he still, famously, infamously, got some 74 million Americans to vote for him for a second term.

When we set out to hire a doctor or a lawyer, or for that matter a plumber or an electrician, we generally do so with caution and care. We might ask around, or maybe go online, to get someone who comes well recommended. Whose track record is of someone reasonably competent and honest. We would, in other words, want a doctor or plumber who is not a total novice. Similarly, a lawyer or electrician who is not a shyster or grifter.  

Somehow, though, when it comes to hiring a leader – in this case voting for president – our usual standards sometimes bite the dust. Last presidential election those 74 million Americans voted for a candidate who demonstrably was neither competent nor honest. In other words, their standards for hiring a leader were far below those they would ever use for hiring a doctor or a lawyer, a plumber or an electrician.

The implications of this are serious. In fact, as the deaths of over 400,000 Americans from Covid-19 attest, they are, or at least they can be deadly serious. What is to be done? How to educate Americans to the fact that their criteria for hiring a political leader should be the same as their criteria for hiring anyone else – competence and character? Two steps come immediately to mind. The first is to reintroduce into American schools, beginning at an early age, a considered and consistent civics curriculum. The second is to mobilize the leadership industry to set standards for leaders. Standards that attest to the rigorousness of leaders’ education and training, and their experience

The practice of leadership should, in short, mimic the practice of the professions – and the vocations. Would you hire a New York City real estate developer with no relevant experience to treat you for cancer? Would you hire a New York City real estate developer with no relevant experience to fix your toilet? If not, why hire a New York City real estate developer with no relevant experience to run the country?    

Whatever might be his deficits, about Joe Biden there is this to be said. He’s a pro. He’s been in the business of politics for many years. He’s had many previous leadership posts. And as near everyone who knows him concurs, he is a man who is decent.              

Leader Who Lusts as Phenom – Tom Brady*

Given the turmoil and tumult of the last four years few things have stayed the same. An exception is Tom Brady. Now as before he is the most formidable force in American football. And, now as before he is a phenomenon – as singular psychologically as he is physically.  

Brady is a gift to the nation. Ambitious as ever, accomplished as ever, iconic as ever he is good for our national psyche. He reminds us of the virtues of determination and discipline. He entertains, energizes, and distracts. He models good leadership in a morass of bad leadership. And he soothes our savage breasts when they sorely need soothing.

In Leaders Who Lust: Power, Money, Sex, Success, Legitimacy, Legacy, Todd Pittinsky and I wrote that Brady’s stellar performance and extraordinary longevity were attributable in part to luck. Not every star athlete has his natural physical attributes and abilities, nor, obviously, are they all blessed with his enduring good health.

Still, it is Brady’s mind more than his body, specifically his astonishing work ethic, that has distinguished him from his counterparts. His work ethic has been the external manifestation of his internal drive – of his insatiable appetite, of his tireless lust to succeed. “It explains why he has been willing for so many years, eager for so many years, to push himself far beyond what the rest of us mere mortals can even begin to contemplate.”*

Last year when Brady quit the New England Patriots most football fans thought it likely he had seen his better days. It seemed a stretch for him to assume that he could replicate in Tampa Bay the success he had in New England. Not only was he old, old, old – 42 at the time, ancient for a quarterback – his cord to Pats’ coach Bill Belichick was considered too close to cut.

But while New England has clearly suffered in apparent consequence of Brady’s departure, he himself has thrived. Brady has brought to his new team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, fresh energy and new hope. Tampa Bay has not won a Super Bowl since 2003. This year though they’re in the NFC Championship – so it’s possible they pull it off, again!  

Brady is as bright a star, as formidable a role model in Tampa Bay as he was in New England. Wrote a sportswriter recently in the Washington Post, “There’s something unique about the way NFL players talk about Brady. [He is] myth as much as man to players who dreamed about making the league while watching his games on TV.” Wrote another writer-admirer, this one in January in the Wall Street Journal, “He is leading the hottest defense in the NFL … and after years of diminishing play Brady has experienced a stunning rejuvenation.” Said Buccaneer’s head coach, Bruce Arians, of Brady just a few days ago, he’s the “consummate leader.”

Leaders Who Lust went to print before Brady moved to Tampa Bay. But his template had long ago been set. To lust for success – as Brady does – has little or even nothing to do with the trappings of success. With fame, or money, or power. Rather it is about success per se – success as its own reward. Which is why despite the risks of playing past his prime, Brady persists. In 2018 he was interviewed by Oprah Winfrey, who asked if he thought he had an “insatiable drive.” To which Brady replied, “Yeah, I do. To be the best I can be. Not to be the best what anyone else thinks. Just to be the best I can be. Why am I still playing now? Because I feel like I can still do it…. It’s just, I love it.”   

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*My thanks to Jack Greenwald for his considerable contribution to this post.

**Page 137, Cambridge University Press, 2020.

Contagion – Bad Leadership

Bad leadership is toxic. Toxic not only within but without. Like a virus that’s highly contagious, bad leadership can spread, quickly and efficiently, from one place to another.

We saw this in Europe, in the years before the Second World War, when not only fascism but associated toxins such as anti-Semitism started first in one country and then spread to another, and then to still others. In fact, we have seen this in Europe even in recent years, especially in East Europe, where, to the astonishment of its West European counterparts, autocracies have replaced democracies.

The poisonousness contagiousness of bad leadership comes to mind again now, watching China’s behavior, Xi Jinping’s behavior, just in the last six months. I have written elsewhere about Xi’s lust for power.* Here I will point out only that in the recent past this lust has not only not been stilled, quelled, it has been revived, reinvigorated.

Why has this been so? Why after years in power did Xi decide recently to clamp down on Hong Kong? Why after years in power did Xi decide recently totally to squelch his political opposition? Why after years in power did Xi decide recently aggressively to take on China’s most powerful and prominent industrialist, Alibaba founder, Jack Ma? Why now? Why has Xi been far more aggressive and oppressive in the recent past than he was in the more distant past?

Paramount among the several reasons is one. Because the United States – the only country in the world that rivals China in power and influence – has been hobbled if not crippled by bad leadership. Bad leadership that has led to the U.S. now facing four crises simultaneously: 1) a public health crisis; 2) an economic crisis; 3) a social justice crisis: and 4) a governance crisis.

Bad leadership is why Americans have been consumed, completely, by themselves. This has allowed it, bad leadership, to spread. In fact, if this keeps up, look to Putin to copy Xi, to harden his fist not only at home but abroad.      

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*Leaders Who Lust: Power, Money, Sex, Success, Legitimacy, Legacy (Co-authored with Todd Pittinsky, Cambridge University Press, 2020).