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Adapting leadership to modern problems

Former oil exec says 21st century presents new challenges

By Bryan Richardson

The former president of Shell Oil said Tuesday that the nation hasn’t had a president up for the task of 21st century leadership.

John Hofmeister said President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama lacked the capacity, capability, experience, knowledge and awareness needed to lead in this new age.

“We’re building a 16-year hole in respect to the presidency based upon what we’ve seen in terms of executive leadership in this country for four straight terms,” he said.

Hofmeister, a Kansas State University alumnus and founder of Citizens for Affordable Energy, spoke at the K-State Leadership Studies Building as a part of the Lou Douglas Lecture Series, named in honor of the late political science professor.

Hofmeister, a former studen of Douglas, said the professor was “one of the giants in my life.”

Hofmeister said leaders across the nation are using 20th-century techniques that don’t necessarily work now.

“The problems we’re having is because we were well-equipped to deal with the issues of the 20th century, but we woefully, totally underestimated the issues of the 21st century, which have hit us smack-dab in the face, unprepared and unexpectedly,” he said.

Hofmeister said the modern age has a number of differences for which leaders must prepare:

• Things move at a quicker pace. “Leaders in leadership positions have to respond and react in the instant because if you hesitate, you’ve lost it,” Hofmeister said.

• There is more thought about the condition of the environment for future generations. “Intergenerational sustainability is such a big deal because we’re all educated in what we need to do preserve and protect the Earth for future generations,” Hofmeister said.

• The implications of the world’s changing demographics have to be a part of decision making.

• Religion, which was once a private matter, is now a part of campaigning and how leaders define themselves.

• Social, political and economic equity issues have to be more of a consideration. “Do not disadvantage me on an equity basis in the 21st century,” he said. “I’ll slap you down.”

Hofmeister said he doesn’t want to dismiss or diminish what’s been learned in the 20th century, but rather to update it.

“Nobody prepared our leaders for this,” he said. “Leadership studies from my standard experience around the country don’t come to grips with these issues except superficially,” Hofmeister said.

Hofmeister developed a series of qualities that would make someone a “coherent leader” for the 21st century: making sure values and behaviors match up; understanding context; cognitive complexity; understanding leadership obligations; accepting responsibility of a decision’s social impact; finding balance to do what need to be done; and establishing personal flow in work and life.

“It’s not who’s the smartest guy in the room,” he said. “Who can wrap it all up?”

Hofmeister said the struggles of Bush and Obama to meet this criterion have shown in the way they’ve handled the Iraq War and the Affordable Care Act, respectively.

He said Bush failed to understand context of invading Iraq by not considering the thousand years of hostilities in the region that could come unglued.

“He created this aspiration of society in tribal societies that don’t have a clue what democracy is,” Hofmeister said.

Hofmeister said Obama failed to understand and meet leadership obligations on the ACA rollout.

He said the five things a leader has to provide an organization are strategy, structure, process of work, people knowing what they’re doing and measures, nothing which Obama had in place.

“People may not like me saying that, but we’re talking about leadership here, and we expect more,” Hofmeister said. “If somebody wants a big role and title, they have to deliver on it.”

As for potential future leaders in attendance, Hofmeister said his time at K-State provided an initial stepping stone on his path to leadership.

“It’s the knowledge that you’re acquiring and the ability to take the knowledge and apply it,” he said.

Matt Zayas, senior in geography, political science and natural resources, said he was surprised at how unbiased Hofmeister’s approach was, given his oil background.

“He addressed both sides fairly,” he said. “He knows his stuff politically and leadership wise.”

Kristin Johnson, freshman in marketing, said she liked Hofmeister’s coherent leader vision.

“It amazes me that one of us could have the possibility and potential to be that type of leader and really step it up,” she said.









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