The First Task of Leadership

John W. Gardner was Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under Lyndon Johnson. He was a great American, advocate for education and wise thinker. Gardner said, “The first task of a leader is to keep hope alive.” His words couldn’t be timelier.

Today the media bombards us with gloom and doom about the economy. To be fair, they might be right. To be equally fair, they might not know much more than anybody else. How much of our economic malaise is caused by people buying into the bad news? Might our economy recover quickly if the fatalists just shut up?

It is possible to report about what is going on without presenting conjecture as conclusion. The smartest economists have opinions about the economy but don’t confuse opinion with fact. The only thing we know with any certainty is what is happening; nobody knows with certainty what will happen.

Our leaders today have the opportunity to tell us what they believe is happening and at the same time uncover reasons to be hopeful. Focusing only on what’s broke requires no insight or skill; presenting possible solutions is both an art and science.

I never advocate happy talk, denial or rationalization. I am, however, completely fed up with rampant negativity masquerading as factual reporting.

We need leaders, as John Garndner advocated, that will help keep hope alive.

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2 Responses to “The First Task of Leadership”


  1. [...] 2008 December | Sanborn and Associates [...]

  2. [...] In his December 12th post titled The First Task of Leadership, best-selling author Mark Sanborn wrote, John W. Gardner was Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under Lyndon Johnson. He was a [...]

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