Think About It: Leading from the dark side of the moon

Did you miss me? Not really? Even so now that you know, you might be interested in where I’ve been. I paused to take on the mantle of Diogenes, the Greek philosopher who is said to have carried a lamp during the day to find an honest man.

Except instead of a lamp, I carried a big beam flashlight powered by the largest available Diehard battery. Instead of looking for an honest man, I would look for leaders in our federal government starting at the top.

Before I spin my journey, I thought it interesting to tell you what I found out about Diogenes (412 or 404 BC – 323 BC).

Once I perused Wikipedia for Diogenes insight, I laughed, thinking I should have known. He was a cynic and carrying a lamp in daylight to find an honest man was his way of poking the world.

Clearly, he didn’t think it was possible to find an honest man (no one thought too much about women having brains in those days).

Diogenes was a founder of the Cynic Philosophy which essentially scorned wealth, power, fame and sex, anything that gave a hint of accumulation, self-satisfaction and greed. He took a vow of poverty, held few possessions and lived in line with nature, at least so he thought.

People didn’t much like Diogenes. He was a killjoy and mood spoiler.

What happened?

I regret to report the light went out early in my journey to uncover competent leadership for the people and by the people, commonly referred to as representative government. All I found were shadows of leaders without a glimmer of courage. When did we stop expecting our elected leaders to be leaders for the good of all the people and instead be the purveyors of a cause or political view? Die hard, indeed!

My decades-long career in health care administration and consultation put me in touch with some of the best and most competent leaders in the industry. Not all CEOs and executive directors were the best at the job but good enough or soon out of a job.

Health care is a complex industry; the larger the institution and scope of responsibility, the more complex and demanding for the leader. Leaving large multi-layered health care corporations’ top echelon aside, health care leaders set their goals as excellence, quality, safety and prudent financial management of services.

Once the purpose is set out, the real art becomes leading people to those ends. A good leader knows he/she cannot achieve his/her own success without the success of the people in each level of the production hierarchy. A good leader sets the standards, the values, the pace, the tone and the way forward. Typically, he/she does this with encouragement and the involvement of qualified and competent people who work with him/her.

A good leader is articulate and able to communicate a vision and direction. A good leader negotiates within the parameters of the goals, vision and direction. A good leader understands that people do better when informed and want to do better when valued.

Failure of leadership

A poor or incompetent leader does little or none of the above. Poor leaders leave people in the uncertainty of darkness. Darkness occludes the security, purpose and sense of belonging of a person doing the daily work. Darkness generates fear in an environment of unclear expectations and perceived certain punishments for questioning.

Poor leaders tend to leave people unknowing and uncertain of direction either because they don’t know how to effectively communicate or see leaving people in the dark as a means of holding on to power. Some poor leaders, as we’ve seen, use fear as an inducement for compliance.

Our president fails to lead the nation and its people. People who attend his rallies probably won’t agree and rather seem to enjoy the voice that humiliates others, threatens others, makes promises he never keeps and brags about himself as superior, including being above the laws of this nation. They seem to believe and cheer whatever he says.

The most startling example to me is the strange acceptance of the president’s accusation that health care professionals and mothers are killing full-term healthy babies at birth! It is absurd! It’s not leading, it’s lying, a monstrous lie.

The president knows how to generate anger and fear, but I don’t think he knows how to lead and has shown he either doesn’t care to or doesn’t know how to build unity, that thing we call a team that accomplishes the goal. Otherwise, he could make good on some of those promises, especially those that have bipartisan support – think China policy and infrastructure. But then, such an approach would require giving others some of the credit.

The only thing the president seems able to do, and that only with the willful compliance of an obedient Republican Senate is to pick Supreme Court justices, make unilateral decisions and create crises of government shutdowns, trade wars and emergency declarations that hurt the economy of ordinary people. He cannot negotiate and manage complexity. He resorts to edicts when he fails at both.

Our president’s failure to lead has left too much undone, not to mention what he himself undid such as relationships with allies and hard-won treaty alliances. He quickly lost any possibility of being a world leader and is only courted by those who understand it is his ego that must be fed.

Indeed, the light died easily before I could get to those that surround the president with praise and whose acts have Diogenes laughing from his grave.

Bertha Cooper spent her career years as a health care organization and program administrator and consultant and is a featured columnist in Sequim Gazette. Cooper has lived in Sequim with her husband for nearly 20 years. Reach her at