Sunday, July 19, 2009

To Be a Trusted Leader

Walter Cronkite died at the age of 92. He left the air as host of the CBS evening news in 1981, but 28 years later he is still remembered for his sign off, "And that's the way it is..." He said that not in a way that assumed he was omniscient; far from it. He worked hard to seek the truth, to inform people and to present the truth without bias. He was hesitant to editorialize and did not see his podium as a center ring for entertainment or celebrity.

I noticed that the network and cable news accounts of his death had a singular theme. He saw this nation through complex times of the 1960's and 70's. He was the "most trusted person in America" because he was a man of integrity. People felt comforted,not because he offered solace--that is not a journalist's job. He offered people stability in unstable times, clarity in a time of uncertainty.

In an earlier post I discussed "credit" as having the root of "credo." "In debt we trust" has been exposed as a false belief system. This nation trusted Walter Cronkite. In terms of American civil religion, he has been noted as a combination of preacher and prophet. Actually I think he is also a role model for leadership. When a leader loses credibility, that leader has lost much. Soon the people think, "I can't trust anything they say anymore." It is not a matter of believing IN the leader (no omnipotence or omniscience), but believing what the leaders says and does. There is a congruence and consistency. With such a leader a people will have courage to face great difficulty.

Walter Cronkite's vocation was like that. There was a congruence between his work and his life. He did not have an "on-air" voice and a real voice (no pulpit tone). Leaders through their various vocations in the public world seek truth, seek to inform (and therefore empower) people, and provide a consistency that enables them to walk into the future, one day at a time.

P.S. I hope you heard, or will down-load, President Obama's speech before the NAACP last week. It was superb!