"There is no right or one way to lead … It should, however, always be authentic. Otherwise it's not leadership at all." -- Richard Neff.
Woke up about 0200 my time, read a little bit of All In, the new biography of David Petreaus, but couldn't get back to sleep. In part, this was because I awoke with the fear that I am not up to this task that is before me this week. I'm not sure anyone is, or that anyone else could be. The stakes are as high as they get. We stand once more, at the opening of this fateful year of 2012, at a crossroads in the history of our sad, battered old Republic. Take one path and we'll stagger on in the Founder's experiment. Take the other . . . well, the other is a short trip to the precipice of an abyss. And once started it will be darned difficult, if not impossible, to stop or turn back, with the pressure of events and human folly at our backs.
It is easy to be discouraged and doubtful at two o'clock in the morning and it is important at such times to remember that the first actually flows from the second. Doubt can paralyze if you let it, or it can leaven your judgment. In my life I have known men and women who never doubted their own competence and direction -- people convinced that they, and they alone, had the answer and so they sought to mold other people, and even reality itself, to that answer. They were, one and all, lousy leaders and almost universally worthless as human beings.
In the flurry Friday night to get the story out about the White House document dump, I was down in the hotel lobby, working the cell phone and their guest computer. My frenetic activity drew the attention of the night manager, who asked me, "Are you a journalist?" I gave him my stock answer these days, "No, but I play one on the Internet." I have always felt the same way about being called a "leader." I have never really thought I was a leader, or, if I admitted on the evidence that people seemed to agree with what I said and followed me along as I went, that I was not a very good one. I still believe that, even though the group of folks who consider me to be a leader has grown over the years.
I have long told the story of how, after I was selected as the leader of what became my militia unit, the 1st Alabama, I asked the boys why they picked me, a transplanted Yankee in their eyes. There was an uncomfortable silence and then a good old boy back in the corner offered, "Hell, Mike, its BECAUSE you're a Yankee. We put you out front and you get killed, we ain't lost nothin'." Later, the same guy told me, "Look, we agree with what you say and the way you say it, but that's not why. It's because we trust your judgment that you won't get us killed for nothin'." Implied in that was the promise that if I did get them killed for SOMETHING, they would follow me willingly. It was the first time that someone, anyone, had ever trusted me with that kind of burden and it was humbling and scary at the same time. I felt like Forrest Gump when Lieutenant Dan Taylor welcomes him and Bubba to Vietnam:
"Two standing orders in this platoon. One, take good care of your feet. Two, try not to do anything stupid, like getting yourself killed." Bubba and Forrest look at each other and then Forrest says, "I sure hope I don't let him down."
There is a lot of discussion in the book All In about the "mask of command," about how a leader like Petraeus must hide his human feelings in order to effectively lead. I rather agree with the sentiment of Richard Neff at the top of this essay. I have never commanded men in battle, so I don't think of myself as a "commander." I have led citizens over the years in a variety of settings to accomplish shared purposes, and God has given me a talent for putting into words what many others feel and think. This, and this alone, makes me a leader in some sense. And it is a burden. It is a responsibility, and I feel it keenly, especially right now, sitting in a hotel room thanks to the subscription contributions of you, my gentle readers, after my original plan broke down. YOU have made it possible, once again, for me to be here and I feel very keenly the hope that I don't let you down, that I am equal to the task. I'm not a leader, see, but people keep asking me for serious advice. And they go where I go and help push me along to where they think I need to be. But in my heart of hearts I know that I am just some guy lucky to have such friends. And that, and that alone, makes me special. Not me, but my friends. You.
I am a writer, yes. An investigator, yes. An advocate for a point of view, certainly. I will wear all these hats in turn this week as I both cover the story and push it along to the best of my ability. But mostly I'm a citizen. Just a citizen. Doing what the Founders expected all citizens to do -- hold their government to account by whatever means to preserve the liberty and property of all.
I don't know if I will succeed.
But I will do my best.