Friday, August 20, 2010

Arrogant or Incompetent?

Which is the preferred trait in a leader? Neither is great, but is one less bad? DH and I discussed this last night as we watched O'Reilly. Chris Wallace was the guest, and after much pulling and prodding O'Reilly finally got this newsman to offer his opinion. (That's not his job, but that's another issue.) Wallace believed that Obama's problem, his tone-deafness, is due to arrogance. O'Reilly reacted strongly against that word, pushing Wallace to back down from that word and chalk the disconnectedness in the White House to incompetence. Wallace was firm, and stuck by his analysis of arrogance.

BTW, the purpose here wasn't to critique O'Reilly. That would take SEVERAL more posts.

So DH and I started talking about it...would we prefer a leader who is arrogant or incompetent? Well, of course the right answer is "neither," but I think we are stuck with at least one of these traits for two more years. Arrogant--there was no one with a bigger ego than Bill Clinton, but I think he wasn't terrible. I completely disagreed with his policies, but he was sensitive to the electorate, infuriating to his opponents, and endlessly creative. A leader who is arrogant will stick to his own point of view rather than reach out for others. He'll claim credit for anything good that happens, and find ways to pin blame for the bad on those who are outside his circle. He'll try to lead by force of his character. Humility? Unheard of, in the leader or those around him. Be humble around this guy and get run over. Hmmm...the shoe seems to fit.

An incompetent leader, on the other hand, will lead us down the wrong road. "President" is a big job, the biggest big-picture job in the world. Not only do you need a big picture outlook, you must surround yourself with people who can do the same within their own spheres. Look at who runs this administration: more Ph.D.s and non-profit/government workers than any previous administration, and fewer private, business-oriented, big picture citizens than ever before.

My DH, a Ph.D. himself, has said more than once that as you proceed through higher education, you know more and more about less and less. Eventually you know an infinite amount about the asshole of an ant. A person can be brilliant but incompetent, failing to see the big picture. An incompetent leader might surround himself with other experts, all various asshole experts, but not realize he also needs to understand the general manure pile. (Man, that metaphor is stretched way too thin. Sorry. I'll quit.)

They've all convinced themselves that they are experts, but things keep happening "unexpectedly." When was the last time you heard a piece of bad economic news that didn't include the word "unexpected?"

The worst possiblity is that these two traits aren't mutually exclusive. An incompetent AND arrogant leader may be what we have. Someone who fails to learn from past experience and says that he doesn't have anything to learn.

The arrogant/incompetent meme seems to be gathering steam. Just this morning I saw this from Commentary Magazine:

It’s a deadly combination — intellectual arrogance and lack of sympatico with the public — that leads him again and again to stumble. And when his shortcomings lead to embarrassment or failure, he strikes out in frustration — at Israel, at the media, and at the American people. The image of himself clashes with the results he achieves and the reaction he inspires. No wonder he’s so prickly. You’d be, too, if everyone your entire life had told you that you were swell but now, when the chips are down and the spotlight is on, you are failing so badly in your job.

So we may be in for a "prickly" couple of years. Arrogant, incompetent, or, tragically, both?

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