“Leadership in America no longer can be left to traditional groups, to those who have had the opportunity to lead — and failed...We’ve learned in this country that experience in winning elections doesn’t mean ability to govern. I don’t think that lesson will be soon forgotten.”
Our Quote of the Week for Presidents Day invites us to reflect on the nature of leadership. It reminds us of two things: that there is a need to bring forth new and diverse voices and approaches to leadership; and that within our system, winning an election and governing effectively require two different skill sets, one of which does not guarantee the other.
Sargent Shriver ran in the 1976 Democratic presidential primary. In this early campaign speech at the Women’s Leadership Conference Luncheon, he made a point that is still relevant today: that an attitude genuinely open to new political ideas should be enough to empower one to seek out a leadership role.
We are experiencing a moment of deep partisanship and political volatility perhaps not unlike the moment Shriver found himself in when he spoke these words in the aftermath of the Nixon presidency. As challenging as this moment is, it can open up opportunities for new leaders who may not have a traditional political background, but who are sincerely committed to problem-solving and to service, and who are in touch with the needs of the wider cross-section of people who call the United States their home.
As we move forward, let us embrace innovative models of leadership. Let us have the vision and courage to create a diverse and inclusive group of political leaders who will keep the best interests of all of our communities in mind. If we work together, we can create a government that is more committed to the long-term goal of governing well than to the short-sighted act of winning simply to gain power.