Rethinking Elected Leadership . . .

“ No matter how important a man at sea may consider himself, unless he is fundamentally worthy the sea will someday find him out.”  –Felix Riesenberg

Imagine the following scenario:

An experienced sea captain sets sail with a hired crew across the ocean. He takes command, charts the course and orders the sails set to his liking. For the first part of the journey the weather is fair, with a following wind. Perfect sailing weather. The crew is pleased to bemaking such good progress and remark on how good a sailor the captain is.

Out of nowhere the weather turns and that night they find themselves in a raging storm. Everyone is frantic, working as hard as they can to keep the ship together. Without warning they hit a reef and run aground.

In the morning an exhausted crew awakes to see their captain rowing off towards shore in the only lifeboat, the boat filled with food and equipment.

An absurd scenario? Isn’t the captain supposed to stay with the
ship until the last man is off or the ship can be repaired?

Perhaps for sea captains that is the leadership ethos, but not for our elected leadership in Congress! Somewhere between the helm and the ballot box, the responsibilities of leadership have changed, with dire consequences for the economy and millions of citizens.

A walk through some of the old New England whaling towns reveals
several houses, much larger and grander than most, lined up facing the sea. These were the homes of the sea captains. With the risk also came the rewards for a job well done. But if the captain couldn’t get the job done, or had a string of bad luck with the weather, his bonus at the end of the trip was meagre and if a captain earned a negative reputation few good sailors would sign on for his next voyage.

Think it’s old fashioned to demand that the responsibilities of
leadership be the same for sea captains and elected officials? Perhaps, but it’s not too old-fashioned to think that the principles and responsibilities (and behaviours) of leadership need to be revisited by todays elected officials, and especially by a Congress that abandons ship for a vacation during the worst economic storm of the century, one which threatens our standard of living, not to mention our global credit rating as a nation.

The sea captains of old didn’t own the ships but were hired by the
owners (usually a syndicate) to take stewardship of the assets (cargo, ship and sailors) and to do their job as contracted. The analogies between a cargo ship and our elected officials in Washington are not too dissimilar, except for the stewardship piece. Today’s elected officials seem to have forgotten that bit of the job – the stewardship of values and a constitution that puts the well-being of the public first and foremost. Instead we have bickering, filibustering rather than open dialogue, pork barrel bills and creating divisions rather than healing the wounds.

So who is going to start the dialogue and take a stand for a new
set of leadership behaviors for our elected officials? If your answer is the government, then you’ve just failed the test.

It’s time for people like you and me to demand stewardship and statesmanship from all our elected officials in Washington, and beyond. If the President isn’t going to call Congress back to work, then the people should demand it.  After all, they work for us, not special interest groups.

Our battered national and global economy needs the best leadership we can offer.

“On the sea there is a tradition that with responsibility goes authority and accountability. Men will not long trust leaders who feel themselves beyond accountability for what they do. And when men lose confidence and trust in those who lead, order disintegrates into chaos and purposeful ships into uncontrollable derelicts”   –Wall Street Journal – Editorial 14 May 1952

It’s time to take a stand and speak out.

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

E |      T | +44 207 584 3774      M | +44 7833 493 999

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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