With a Servant’s Heart
Six months to the day that former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin announced her decision to not run for President of the United States, LaDonna Hale Curzon, Executive Producer and host of Sarah Palin Radio interviewed me to discuss Gov. Palin’s leadership style and methods.
“So, what type of leader is Gov. Palin?” Curzon asked.
“Gov. Palin’s leadership falls into two classes: Transformational/Charismatic, and Servant Leadership. Both styles were defined in the late 1960s and early 1970s. If you load the US for Palin Accomplishments page, you will see the cover to the definitive book that was written about Transformational Leadership by Bernard Bass and Ronald Liggio.”
“Transformational Leaders make their own continued leadership contingent upon the results they produce. They lead by example. They will never ask you to do something they would not do themselves. Self-sacrifice is a core behavior of transformational leaders. They do not pursue power for its own sake or seek popularity. They principally focus on vision and mission. They have a high degree of what in MBA-speak is called ‘referent power’ – what we in politics would call ‘political capital’ or ‘influence.'”
“Leadership means upholding the law and oath of office even when it contradicts core values. A perfect example was how Gov. Palin handled domestic partnership benefits in the early days when she took office. She looked to her state’s constitution and would not veto the benefits, even though she was against them. The Constitution took precedence.”
I also noted that Transformational Leaders purge and cleanse in every new position. They fire everyone who can in any way, shape or form undermine their mission and vision. Gov. Palin has done this in every position she’s held.
“Servant Leaders have 10 characteristics: listening, empathy, healing, self-awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people, and building community. Gov. Palin has every last one of these characteristics,” I said.
Curzon asked, “How do Transformational and Servant Leaders differ from Conventional Leaders?”
“The principal bases of power for a conventional leader originate from formal title, reward, and punishment. A conventional leader is good if you want to maintain the status quo and keep things the way they are. Someone like Gov. Palin is brought in to overhaul a broken organization. When her work is complete, you bring in a conventional leader behind her to maintain the new status quo and she goes to climb her next mountain. Transformational Leaders don’t stay long after they’ve done what they needed to do.”
Political World View is Totally Divorced from Leadership
Curzon asked if political world view influences or affects leadership style. “It does not,” I said. “They are completely divorced.” I gave the example of Lopez Obrador, a candidate running to be President of Mexico. Obrador is a leftist, but he has many similar characteristics to Gov. Palin despite his politics being 180 degrees divergent from hers. When he was mayor of Mexico City, anyone with a concern could come to his office seven days a week during a time he set aside. Gov. Palin used to take calls at her home during all hours of the night from her constituents in all the offices she held. Obrador expanded Mexico City’s main highway – the Viaducto among other capital improvement projects. As a candidate, he draws huge crowds and inspires his base. People travel far and wide just to have a few special moments with him – just like they do here with our Sarah. Leadership knows no political bounds.”
Gov. Palin’s Principal Base of Power
Curzon asked what Gov. Palin’s principal base of power is. I answered, “referent – what we call ‘political capital’ and ‘influence.’ It is based on identification with the leader, respect, and trust. It makes people want to be with the leader. No title is needed to make a difference. This has been Gov. Palin’s power base since July 26, 2009, when she stepped down from office.”
I recalled several interviews Curzon gave to people who had been in Pella, IA the day it took Gov. Palin two hours to walk 100 yards because she was swarmed by the crowd. “I was not in Pella, but I was at the Machine Shed and Indianola. At the Machine Shed, Gov. Palin’s entire body was drenched in sweat within five minutes of her arrival, because we were all swarming around her. In Indiaonla, she walked the rope line twice.” Curzon asked, “she walked it twice?” “Yes,” I said. “Twice. She went to the left, and when it looked like she was going to leave, she turned around and came back to the right. She spent more time with us than on her own speech.”
Even Non-Supporters and Enemies Recognize How Gov. Palin Inspires
I noted that Matt Lauer of the Today Show is not a supporter of Gov. Palin’s. “Many Palinistas would argue that he is an enemy,” I began. “But, even he recognized something, and I think most of us missed it….Lauer said, ‘One thing that everybody realized was that you had the ability to stir the passion of your base. Governor Romney does not have that ability.’ Gov. Palin responded that ‘he will have that ability.'”
I interrupted my recitation of the exchange between Gov. Palin and Lauer, and continued, “Referent power – or political capital and influence if you prefer – is not something that is built overnight. It develops very slowly over time. When Sarah Heath was on the [high school] basketball court, she was not drawing large crowds. It sometimes takes a lifetime to build this, but you can lose it in mere seconds.”
“Lauer – remember, he is not what you would call a supporter of Gov. Palin’s – recognized this. Lauer asked, ‘Where is it going to come from? Aren’t you born with that?” Lauer’s assumption that one is born with the power to influence is wrong. But his question about where it will come from is spot on. The power to inspire cannot be manufactured or contrived. The power to inspire does not magically and suddenly appear in a person. Romney cannot shake his Etch-a-Sketch and have crowds thousands strong ready to give him their all.
Gov. Palin predicted that once the nominee was chosen, voters would unite and coalesce behind him to oust Obama. It was her purported enemy who cut straight to Gov. Palin’s base of power. Lauer in his final words on the subject asked, “But Governor Romney can – in your opinion – all of a sudden – develop that skill? He can get the guy sitting at a bar in Alabama or the woman working in a factory in Des Moines to feel he is one of them?”
Gov. Palin’s responses to Lauer underscored her grace, humility and servant’s heart – not pursuing power for its own sake. Though Lauer was clearly right about her power to inspire and Romney’s lack of same, Gov. Palin did not use it as an opportunity to grandstand, showboat, toot her own horn, or go negative on a candidate. Instead, she elevated Romney, even at her own expense.
Curzon asked, “Why does Gov. Palin’s October 5 decision make perfect sense when you understand what type of leader she is?”
“When you examine her decision from the standpoint of conventional leadership, it makes no sense. But, we know she is not a conventional leader. When you consider the core behaviors of Transformational Leaders – personal sacrifice – not pursuing power for its own sake – considering family in their proposed actions, Gov. Palin’s decision makes perfect sense. Further, when pursuing a formal title, restrictions on discretion – that is freedom to undertake actions without consulting rulebooks or being answerable to anyone – is a contingency against that power. Listen to Gov. Palin’s interview with Greta the week before the announcement. She spoke about being shackled. And her other oft-cited reason is family. She spoke about that in her announcement and in two speeches following. You interviewed the president of the Clare Booth Luce Institute who gave Gov. Palin an award for putting family first in this decision.”
Curzon asked if it was possible to predict Gov. Palin’s future decision based on her leadership style. I answered, “Yes and no. Let’s get to the ‘no’ first. You cannot predict a precise action she will take such as running for an office or undertaking a major project. But, you can predict how she will behave under a given set of circumstances by applying the leadership theory, and also using what she has done before.”
Finally, Curzon asked me, “what would you like to see her do?”
“In my heart of hearts – I want to see the convention go open or brokered and she be nominated as a result. She is the best one for this job.” It was a visceral response. I never got to say that I would support Gov. Palin no matter how she chose to reach her Summit, which is part of my position and part of a promise I made. No one knows what the future holds. While I expressed my preference, the preference that matters is not mine, but Gov. Palin’s.
I will be on the air with Kevin Scholla, SarahNET Radio on April 13 to bring the subject of Gov. Palin’s Leadership to his show.
Curzon is the Executive Producer and Host of Sarah Palin Radio. Since Sarah Palin Radio was launched in 2008, the program has been covered on MSNBC, CNN, WUSA, “America’s Morning News,” Agence France-Presse TV, SVT Sweden TV, PJTV, United Press International,The Washington Times, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The New Yorker magazine and numerous blogs and radio shows. The executive producer and host was named “Worse Person in the World” by Keith Olbermann on his MSNBC show and acknowledged by Gov. Palin in her best-selling book Going Rogue.