Our Founding Fathers changed history as they brought their collective experiences and best thinking together in a forum that allowed the finest ideas to percolate to the top. Their endeavor, and its subsequent success, relied on an adherence to principle and pragmatic compromise.
The result was a foundation, documented in the creation of the Constitution, which has ensured freedom and opportunity for generations, both in and outside of the United States.
Within the context of this country’s creation, John Adams stated, “Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness of the people; and not for profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men.” More than 200 years later, his words resonate against a troublesome political climate.
Today, maybe more than ever, we — as a nation and as a state — are faced with difficult and complex problems. These challenges require principled leaders motivated by the common good rather than personal betterment. Utah needs individuals who bring substantive life experiences to the debate with an ability to thoughtfully deliberate and prioritize.
We, as the electorate, must recognize and encourage the type of leaders that will effectively navigate today’s unprecedented challenges and opportunities. To date, each of my columns has focused on making improvements in public education. But education, and other public priorities, require effective leadership. Therefore, I’d like to propose some of the characteristics most important for voters to seek in their elected leaders:
Past success and experience matter. At times, we fall victim to electing people who have minimal life experiences. Their blank slates position them to directly align with current polling sentiment and claim the most popular beliefs as their own. Rather than finding someone who tells us what we want to hear, we must choose people who have demonstrated success in life – success within their professions, families, faith, and/or community service. Successful individuals will also have surely experienced failures and disappointment.
In fact, this is critical for effective leadership because individuals who have learned from the vicissitudes of life better understand the consequences of their ideas and are less likely to under-think big decisions. A life full of experience tends to diminish dogma and hubris; genuinely successful people realize that long-term solutions are often complex and rarely resolved with sound bites and labels.
Intellectual depth matters. Effective leaders approach problems analytically, examining challenges holistically and balancing the trade-offs of each decision. They spend time seeking to understand the root causes, and not merely the symptoms, of the problems they are trying to solve. They spend more time listening and learning than convincing. And they prioritize their focus toward the policies that matter most.
Integrity matters. We must not forget that elected officials are public servants. As such, these individuals should emanate integrity—their actions must demonstrate honesty and an innate desire to put the well-being of their communities before themselves as well as special interests. Along with the confidence that comes from integrity, these individuals must have the humility to listen, to admit when they are wrong, and to welcome and learn from the good ideas of others.
Collectively, these characteristics require a shift away from electing those with whom we always agree. Principled leaders don’t always tell you what you want to hear, but you know that they’ve thoughtfully listened to all sides and are motivated by the common good, not by personal motivation.
In my next column, I’ll identify a few specific community and business leaders who I believe demonstrate these character traits which are so critical to the future of our state.
This post is part of an ongoing series of data-driven commentary on current events. It was originally published in the Deseret News.