There’s an old saying that “heavy is the head that wears the crown.” It speaks to the fact that leadership bears the burden of responsibility and that it can be lonely at the top. In my experience, whether running a business, standing for public office, or commanding a military unit, those are truisms.
But there’s another old saying as well: “As goes the King, so goes the Country,” which refers to the fact that the man or woman at the top can set the tone, steer the ship, and can help stoke the fears or quiet the discontent, all by the way that he or she leads and addresses situations - especially crises.
There is a great movie that outlines this fact. A true story was made into film back in 2010 called “The King’s Speech.” The title was a double entendre referring both to a speech given by the King of England at the onset of WWII and the fact that the King had a little-known but very serious speech impediment.
Just prior to the Second World War, the then King of England abdicated his throne. As a result, his younger brother Prince Albert very unexpectedly took the throne as next in line. Albert had a serious speech impediment that had haunted him for years but, because of the times in which they lived, most of England had no idea. But soon after Albert took the throne, England entered into war with Nazi Germany. It was a dark time, filled with uncertainty as Hitler marched across the continent and the United States was not yet involved. England was very much alone and the people needed to hear from their King - the same King who had trouble speaking in public. To be sure, a speech impediment is something for which there should be no shame. But the new King had never addressed the broader public and his inability to speak was seen by his advisors, -and himself - as something which, when heard by radio, could have been mistaken for fear and cause a total loss of national morale. But the young King had been working with a speech therapist whose methods were new and different. It was a truly heroic story as this man, whose head was heavy with the crown during a time of war and international crisis, stood in a dimly lit studio and without a hitch - without a trace of his speech shaking - he rallied the nation and faced Hitler with resolve.
He could’ve just said “someone else give the speech.” He could have also just as easily chosen not to labor to be what his people needed and just botched the whole thing. But he was determined to be what his people needed because he knew that “As goes the King, so goes the country” is more than just a cliché.
I can think of some other examples like this in the Bible. In Joshua 24 we find that Joshua, who followed Moses and led the nation of Israel into the Promised Land, was dealing with a recalcitrant people. But he didn’t threaten, cajole or mandate. He just told them all “decide this day whom you will serve … but as for me and my house we will serve the Lord,” and the people followed him. In another biblical example, King Josiah took the throne of Judah. A few years later he was shocked to find a copy of the Scriptures. The nation of Israel had so forgotten its roots and strayed so far that even the King himself had never read Moses’ words. But when he did, he rallied the nation and personally read the words of the Bible to the people. Josiah’s story ends in 2 Kings 23 by saying that no king before him and no king after him turned to the Lord so well and with all his soul and with all his strength … and he led the people there as well.
My point is this: leadership matters. Not just leadership by virtue of one’s position, but leadership exhibited by deep care and concern for the wellbeing of one's people, the history and viability of the nation, and a real and concerted effort to preserve them for future generations - and to project confidence in doing so.
I say this as both an example and as a contrast to what I’m seeing in leadership in our state and nation right now. It is not enough to simply say, “I’m in charge.” To some degree, you have to earn it.
State governors and national presidents are vital. They are required by our constitutionally mandated form of governance, so we’re always going to have both. We can see right now that it is possible for someone to be thrust into those positions who have not a clue what it means to inspire, to be selfless, or to sacrifice greatly so that others may rise.
A part of the fabric of this nation of ours is our freedom of expression, self-determination, and the ability to choose our leaders. Even the most effective leader will have to prove themselves and, in the process of doing so, it will naturally come to be that people will look to see how that leader expresses/acts in a crisis. When times are dark or tough, the troops look to the commander for confidence and direction.
I have worked for some great leaders with whom I would gladly storm the gates of hell. I’ve also worked for some self-serving sycophants whose authority came only from their position rather than their personal effectiveness.
Right now, our State and Nation need more than just platitudes, threats and mandates. None of us want hollow rhetoric or empty executive orders. None of us want mandates. We want to know that tomorrow the sun is going to rise and we’re going to be here to see it and here is the plan to get us through to that sunrise.
In this next go-around of state and federal elections, we must find that man or woman who can inspire and truly lead. Someone who can make decisions in the clutch in a timely and effective manner. Someone who knows how to rally the people to their best moments in their worst times not because they say so, but because they lead so.
After all, "As goes the King, so goes the Country."
Phil Williams is a former State Senator, retired Army Colonel and combat veteran, and a practicing Attorney. He has served with the leadership of the Alabama Policy Institute and currently hosts Rightside Radio M-F 2-5pm on WVNN. His column appears every Monday in 1819 News. To contact Phil or request him for a speaking engagement go to www.rightsideradio.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to [email protected].