Sunday, April 17, 2011

Not Great Men

In a previous post I outlined what I saw as a couple of real deficiencies in Ohio Governor John Kasich's leadership style. My hope was to frame (in a non-partisan way) Kasich's words and actions in the context of some commonly understood leadership principles. And while it's never been my intention to make this blog particularly political, Mr Kasich's off the cuff style (and relative lack of any sort of filter) has provided yet another chance to consider what makes a good leader.

In recent remarks, Governor Kasich stressed the need to make Ohio economically competitive by making Ohio "cool". Kasich said:

"We've got to make Ohio cool. You know, I was down at Lexis-Nexis down in Dayton, I'm meeting with the CEO of the company, and he says, you know, a lot of these, these young people, you know, they want to head for the coast. Why do they want to go to the coast? It's cool. Why do they want to go to Austin? You ever been to Austin? It's very cool. You want to go to the Triangle of North Carolina, go down there and check it out, it's cool. We need to make Ohio cool."

I guess first of all I should congratulate the Governor on coming to the realization that when it comes to economic development, things like vibrancy, diversity, tolerance, cultural amenities, and future orientation actually matter. They matter enough, it turns out, that when young, talented, energetic, risk-taking people (in short, our future) decide on where to settle, they often look for exactly those things.

What's alarming is that Mr. Kasich is telling us this now, as if this is somehow news. His remarks leave the impression that he's hearing this all for the first time. Is that really possible? Richard Florida, the Grand Poobah of attracting talent via the aforementioned qualities, addressed this idea nearly 10 years ago in an article called "The Rise of the Creative Class". Since then he's turned the concept into both a cottage industry and, more importantly, common knowledge. Austin, a city that Kasich proudly name checks, has been a model of establishing growth by way of the cool factor for even longer. To put it another way, none of this chatter about "cool" is a secret, and none of it is news.

I'm old enough that I came of age when history was still being taught via the words and actions of great leaders. My generation was perhaps the last to be brought up to believe that leaders, as a matter of course, were wiser, more noble, more thoughtful, and better informed than the rest of us. While I realize now that's rarely the case, I suspect that's a big part of why Kasich's lack of awareness strikes me as so alarming. If the relationship between "cool" and economic development is somehow a revelation to him, I can only wonder what else he doesn't know. How shallow is his knowledge in other critical matters? What other blind spots will reveal themselves during the course of his governance?

I guess we'll find out. In the meantime it's perhaps a good time to remind ourselves that history isn't always made by great men after all.


  1. You chose a good way of describing the situation; in an apolitical way. Kasich is a polarizing political figure. But politics aside, what kind of leader is he?

    I believe this is the only article (blog post or otherwise) that I've read that has even addressed this.

  2. Thanks Teebs. I think the leadership issue with Kasich is a huge thing. It demonstrates a kind of fault line that exists within democracy that I don't think we always acknowledge; namely the fact that the skills required to get elected don't correspond perfectly (or even well) with the skills required to lead.