Leaders don't become leaders overnight. While some people are born with an aptitude for leadership, truly outstanding leaders are made. Through training, experience, and a healthy dose of introspection they learn to work with different personalities. They learn to nurture, motivate, and inspire.
And, possibly most importantly of all, they learn to make decisions. Leaders have the ability to take on a complex, seemingly overwhelming problem, cut through the clutter and noise, and make decisive plans for how to overcome that problem.
In fact, you could argue that a leader's primary job, especially the farther up the totem pole he or she rises, is to make decisions.
That's why I was read Trek Bikes CEO John Burke's new book, 12 Simple Solutions to Save America. Instead of offering platitudes, Burke proposes concrete solutions -- solutions you may or may not agree with -- to deal with some of our country's biggest challenges. He offers his solutions for dealing with our $19 trillion (and growing) national debt, for simplifying the approximately 74,000-page tax code, for dealing with global warning, and reducing the risk of nuclear war.
And then he takes on Social Security and overhauling Congress. (Clearly John isn't interested in picking any low-hanging fruit.)
I asked John if there are any parts of the book he's particularly proud of.
"Every chapter," he said, "but since you asked, here are two."
1. Fixing Congress. I think Congress is by far the worst performing of our three branches of government.
I lay out the problem of Congress and then offer six specific solutions to fixing Congress: including changing the length of terms in Congress, installing term limits (the same as the Presidency), changing the pay and benefits for members of Congress, cutting the size of Congress from 435 to 221 to allow for better and faster decisions, better relationship building, cost reduction....
2. Reducing the risk of nuclear war.
Many people think that the threat of nuclear war ended with the end of the Cold War.
Wrong. There are nine nations that now have nuclear weapons. In the United States alone we have over 2,000 active nuclear warheads and accidents do happen.
In 1961 a B-52 flying over Goldsboro, N.C broke up; on board were two hydrogen bombs that luckily did not detonate. In 1995 Russian air defense mistook a meteorological rocket launched from Norway for a ballistic missile launched from a U.S. submarine. Russian President Yeltsin was notified and the device carrying the nuclear codes was opened. Fortunately, he did not push the button.
I lay out three specific solutions to solve this problem:
- Cutting the U.S. nuclear missile fleet from over 2,000 to 311, a plan that was originally proposed by two civilian air force employees.
- Agreeing that the U.S. will not use nuclear weapons as a first strike option and voting for UN resolution 63/36.
- Setting the goal of creating a nuclear weapons-free world by 2020 by putting together a coalition of countries to buy up all the nuclear weapons in the world.
Today's fun fact: The U.S. is scheduled to spend $355 billion to modernize our nuclear weapons arsenal in the next ten years.
The fundamental job of a leader is to make decisions that bring order to chaos, bring clarity to ambiguity, and lay out a clear path to success.
Maybe you'll agree with John's proposals. Maybe you won't. Frankly, I'm not smart enough -- about politics or fiscal policy or global warming, to give just a few examples -- to know whether John's solutions are the right ones.
But I do know his book made me think, and want to know more about issues I definitely should know more about -- that's also what leaders do. They help us examine our viewpoints and perspectives. They challenge us, in a good way.
Most of all, though, I appreciate that John doesn't just talk about what's wrong; he describes a problem and then lays out a clear framework for change.
After all, decisions aren't decisions unless they're followed by actions. Without action, "decisions" are just words.