On April 27th, I attended the inaugural banquet for the newly launched Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service, a collaborative effort between Bradley University and the Dirksen Congressional Center. Its mission is to educate and train principled, ethical leaders for careers in public service. (See page 52 for more on the banquet.) What a great event it was! And what an appropriate mission for the times in which we live.
It may be a tougher job than you would think. Rational thought, well-reasoned debate and a cordial manner haven’t been in style for some time. These days, the truth has become an acceptable casualty, and loyalty—to party, to ideology or to power itself—trumps competence and results far too often.
Each day seems to bring with it a brand-new scandal. At last count, 11 members of Congress and 10 former members are the subjects of ongoing criminal investigations, and some of their stories are quite sordid. An administration that was supposed to usher in “a new era of responsibility” has shunned accountability at every turn. “Mistakes were made,” they admit, yet the decision-makers are not made to answer for those mistakes.
We’ve never needed principled leadership more than we do today. In the workplace and beyond, traditions have been upended. Radical change has become the norm, and no one knows exactly what lies ahead. It’s quite daunting. I’m not so sure that we as a society are fully prepared for the challenges we will face in the very near-future.
Here in central Illinois, we know a thing or two about leadership—I personally rediscover that all over again each November, as we honor our 40 Leaders Under Forty. The honorees at the Institute’s banquet—Abraham Lincoln, Everett Dirksen, Scott Lucas, and the man of the evening, Bob Michel—each served the Peoria area in Congress, setting a precedent for honorable conduct that continues today with Congressman Ray LaHood. It must be something in the water.
LaHood, of course, was one of the 11 GOP moderates who recently trekked to the White House to give the President a frank assessment of the war and his shrinking credibility on the topic. For that, he earned the ire of some administration officials, while the term RINO—“Republican in Name Only”—was dug up by some overzealous party loyalists. Others shrugged, understanding that his candidness was not unusual.
“He’s his own man,” explained a former senior GOP aide. “Ray’s been here a long time,” said Rep. Dennis Hastert. “He’s a stand up guy and he says what he thinks.”
Congressman LaHood’s independence and willingness to place principle above party is indicative of the type of leaders we produce here in the Midwest. His collegial approach is straight out of the Bob Michel playbook, and it is the foundation upon which the Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service is being built.
As our country once again feels the crushing weight of scandal fatigue, it could use an injection of good old Midwestern values into the political landscape. The times have never been riper for principled leadership, and the timing has never been better for the Institute’s mission. IBI