I’ve got feet of clay. I’m very comfortable with that. And I want to be very up front about it. If you are looking for perfection or anything close to it, I suggest you keep looking. I’m not the leader/writer/pundit/friend for you.

Quite frankly, I think the search for perfection (versus principles, wisdom, and competence) in our leaders is one way that we sabotage ourselves as a country. From George Washington owning slaves to Abraham Lincoln’s depression to General Grant’s alcoholism to FDR’s much-veiled wheelchair to Gen. Eisenhower’s wartime mistress to JFK’s philandering, some of our greatest leaders have had significant flaws. Yet somehow they managed to lead us through some of our darkest hours, deliver some of our most shining moments.

When we demand inhuman levels of perfection from our leaders, as a practical matter we are asking to be lied to. If we are unwilling to hear the plain truth, if we shoot the messenger (ban them from public life or strip them of their laurels) when we hear the unvarnished truth, perhaps we should not be at all surprised when we are lied to, when spin control becomes the norm, and blunt truth is a long-forgotten stranger.

There is a need for balance. I’m not advocating forgiveness of ongoing material misconduct that relates directly to their public duties. But there must be room for a private life in public service or we will drive too many good women and men from public service, and it is we, the people, who will be less-well served.

Interesting book somewhat on this topic is “Searching for a Corporate Savior: The Irrational Quest for Charismatic CEOs,” by Rakesh Khurana (Princeton Press) “…Corporations have increasingly sought CEOs who are above all else charismatic, whose fame and force of personality impress analysts and the business media, but whose experience and abilities are not necessarily right for companies’ specific needs.”

This is a classic from the NSCBlog archive, originally posted September 21, 2007.