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Politics ≠ Leadership

AS A RULE, Exceptional Leadership does not exist in the political sphere of the U.S. The premium skills of successful politicians are simply not those of Exceptional Leaders. People whose chosen profession depends on the relentless protection and strengthening of their power are not leaders. These individuals, who exist in a state of uncertainty and fear, might well ascribe to “gather ye power while ye may” as an apt adage. Garnering as much power while they are in a position to do so is their primary goal, while leading others in an organization where power is shared is not.

In 1971, Saul Alinsky published 12 Rules for Radicals, a handbook designed to guide those who wanted to enact social and political change from the activist perspective. Central to his 12 Rules is to demonize perceived opponents and depict them as  “enemies.” To stimulate people’s appetite for change from the current status, Alinsky believed that it was necessary to create an “us vs. them” environment. Alinsky’s playbook urges adherents to see political efforts as a constant and relentless battle where only victory, not cooperation,­ is sought. Aggressive vocabulary is borrowed from the glossary of military campaigns, such as “win,” “loss” and “attack.” Alinsky urged followers to artificially create conflict and oppose unity in their quest to turn all opponents into enemies, embracing, “You are either with me or against me.”

Strategic polarization was a major goal of Alinsky. Middle ground is not accepted—we must all choose sides. Public ridicule against perceived opponents is encouraged because they cannot respond adequately nor effectively since defamation laws in the U.S. are exceedingly difficult to enforce. Politicians can effectively cast aspersions freely and suffer no consequence. Meanness and personal attacks can be launched with impunity.

Ironically, Alinsky was an avowed Democrat, yet in the last two decades, the Republican Party has deftly used 12 Rules for Radicals to reassert dominance over the Democrats and firmly divide all issues into an either/or mentality. As this book is written, the same tactics are commonly employed in current U.S. politics by the very party that was attacked by Alinsky and his adherents in the 1970’s: the GOP. One of the results of this political climate is that compromise, the rare creature that resides in the No Man’s Land between two  extremes, has largely ceased to exist.

Since U.S. politics provide a platform to those who seek power and influence, the question of whether politicians actually provide leadership presents itself. Is a U.S. politician expected to lead or garner as much power as possible for their constituents? Undoubtedly, there are those who may develop excellent leadership skills prior to pursuing political office, yet when those individuals are elected, their talents as a leader tend to become less important than their abject loyalty to their political party.

A successful politician and an exceptional leader are rarely the same person. The relationship between the power that is inherent in politics and the tenets of lasting leadership is troubled. Therefore, it is critical to understand the distinguishing characteristics between a politician and a leader. One might be tempted to think that since there is some measure of politics in any environment where leadership exists, seeking political office through conventions of the democratic process, i.e., file to run a campaign, execute that campaign in a prescribed time frame leading to a specific event—an election—is akin to seeking a leadership role in the private or public sectors. The process of earning the role as leader is inherently and fundamentally different. Therefore, the resultant dynamics that exist to maintain the power are also entirely different. Being named to a leadership role in the public and private sectors is rarely the result of a vote, even though one could convincingly argue that a less-public campaign occurs. The element of re-election vis à vis a democratic process is absent.

To illustrate these stark differences, take a moment to review the list of descriptors of the Exceptional Leader in the Introduction to this book. These descriptors refer to leaders in the public and private sectors:


Descriptors of the Exceptional Leader:

  • ·      Inspirational

  • ·      Remarkable

  • ·      Uncommon

  • ·      Bold

  • ·      Mission-focused

  • ·      Ruthlessly fair

  • ·      Crystalline expectations

  • ·      Willing to take calculated risks

  • ·      Always accepts responsibility

  • ·      Has no favorites

  • ·      Respects everyone with no exception

  • ·      Dignified

  • ·      Learns quickly

  • ·      Consistently anticipates future trends

  • ·      Always appears prepared

  • ·      Proactive

  • ·      Tirelessly pursues truth discovery


Summary: Undeterred by setbacks and obstacles, never loses sight of fundamental values and mission, all employees feel valued and respected, rarely caught flat-footed and considers the pursuit of truth to be fundamental to decision-making.


Almost none of these descriptors are manifested in political leaders in the U.S. today. Among the many descriptors that would make most politicians cringe, “the pursuit of truth,” “having no favorites” and “always accepting responsibility” are examples of descriptors that are anathema to U.S. politicians. Those who do these things are generally shunned by both voters and other politicians. Typically, truth may be pursued if it is advantageous to the politician and shirked when it is not. Having favorites is a requisite to how politicians protect their power and generate donations; and responsibility is accepted only if accolades (not blame) can be claimed.

Though Americans commonly imagine both their politicians and workplace supervisors to be considered “leaders,” the raison d’être for each are very distinct. As a result, politicians merit their own category. The closest a politician can come to being legitimately called a “leader” is when they are referred to as a “political leader.”

©️Copyright by David Samore. This excerpt is from True Leadership: The 10 Universal Laws (2024), by David Samore, Ed.D. Excerpts in part or whole may not be used without the expressed permission of David Samore.

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