I’ve been thinking about these three words for the past few days: rule, govern, and lead. They caught my attention a few days ago when I heard a commentator say of a presidential candidate that they appeared to “want to rule, rather than govern.” I found that to be an interesting turn of a phrase.
With some candidates, it seems that they’ve been waiting all their lives to rule. They have all the answers, they’ve worked hard, people like them, and they deserve the power. Other candidates seem to be motivated more by governing. They demonstrate respect for the rules (constitution) and other legitimate authority structures; they seem to have a sense that they have a role to play within a complex system.
Initially, I thought that I wanted a leader who would govern… but after thinking a bit more about it, there are times when we need a ruler too.
I think that one of the best leadership skills may be in knowing when to rule, and when to govern. It seems that some of the biggest leadership mistakes are made when leaders choose to rule when they ought to govern and when they choose to govern when they need to rule. Ruling and governing are both important leadership postures.
When disaster strikes, ruling may be better than governing. To build a system to best handle disaster before it strikes, governing may be better than ruling.
I wonder if the electorate knows the difference. I’m concerned that when given ballots for these kinds of things, we tend to think that we’re choosing a ruler. When candidates speak in terms of governing, eyes glaze over and the electorate takes a nap. Ruler talk can inspire fantasy; we believe that someone just might have all the right answers.
Presidential politics is an interesting case study, but these issues of governing and ruling apply in all sorts of arenas. The same principles apply to CEOs, pastors, managers, and even coaches.
Is there more here? What do you think? I’d love to see your thoughts in a comment.