America's Best Leaders: Q&A with Thomas Friedman, columnist
The world is full of leaders. What separates the excellent ones from the merely competent?
I think two things separate the best leaders from the others. One is the willingness to tell the truth to, and even criticize, your own constituency. It is always easy to tell the truth to the other person's constituencybut not to your own. And usually it is telling your own constituency where to stop and start that matters most. The other is an ability to learn and really know about the world you are living and operating in. You don't get to operate in the world you would like. You have to operate in the world you are in. The best leaders know what world they are living in: where are the constraints, and where are the opportunities.
Leaders take risks and therefore make mistakes. Tell us one of yours, the bigger the better, and how you used it as an opportunity to improve.
I guess the biggest risks I have taken have all been intellectual ones. My biggest risk as a columnist was supporting the Iraq warfor my own reasons, which had nothing to do with WMDeven though my own newspaper and many of my readers were against it. I think the next few months will tell us whether that was a mistake or not.
What leader, past or present, most inspired you?
I greatly admired Yitzhak Rabin. Because you don't see leaders able to change or be ready to take risks at an old age, and he did. I also, with time, have come to admire George H. W. Bush, Margaret Thatcher, François Mitterrand, Helmut Kohl, Jim Baker, Mikhail Gorbachev, Eduard Shevardnadze, and Brent Scowcroft for the way they collectively brought the Soviet empire in for a soft landing, with basically no loss of life. Our world today is so much better for how these leaders brought the Cold War to a peaceful close and wiped away the Iron Curtain.
Warren Bennis, leadership scholar, says: Everybody agrees there is less leadership today than there used to be. Do you agree? Why or why not?
I am not sure why there is less leadership today, but it sure feels that way. In democratic countries it surely must have something to do with how campaigns are funded and the impact of media highlighting even the smallest missteps. But on this question, I don't know that I have the answer. -Beth Brophy