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Tuesday, August 02, 2005 | Following along with the events in the mayoral primary, I stood Jerry Sanders against my leadership doorjamb from time to time and he always almost reached the 6-foot pencil mark.
Pretty good. Leadership principles are the original pencil marks on the doorjamb of human growth, placed there by the earliest people who well understood what leadership meant, because their survival depended on it. A leader accepts responsibility for providing his group its best chance to survive. Never shows fear. Courage, knowledge, love, instinct, strength, humility, generosity, solitude. A leader knows he is alone in his responsibility to lead. He can delegate authority, but he can’t delegate responsibility.
Against the doorjamb, Sanders kept bumping against the 6-foot mark. Steve Francis, on his first day in the race, stepped up against the jamb and barely reached 2.5. In announcing his candidacy May 19, he presented his prepared comments, then walked away, refusing to answer the simplest media questions, questions based on what the people – readers and viewers – wanted to know about this man. It wasn’t a very leaderly example of accepting responsibility from the people he appeared to want to lead. The media called it “curious” and “puzzling.” Finally, on May 19, his managers relented and allowed him to answer several questions, but the perception was cast.
Last Thursday, not much had changed, Sanders reaching for 6 feet, Francis still small at 2.5 after pulling “dirty political tricks” on Sanders and Donna Frye that apparently embarrassed his relatives, who blamed it on his handlers. Again, not a leaderly presentation, for people to learn from a relative that it would not be this man, but his handlers, who would lead them if elected.
Then last Thursday I happened to be crossing the Civic Center plaza, after covering a Feng Shui appraisal in the City Council chambers, when I saw a little media circle huddled near the Civic Theater doors. I walked over and in the middle of the circle were Jerry Sanders and Steve Francis, standing next to each other at microphones. Steve Francis was announcing his endorsement of the old tax-raiser Jerry Sanders in the November runoff election against Frye, and Sanders was happily accepting this speedy unity.
Talk about good Feng Shui. I thought myself quite aligned, to have happened across a moment for the ages. It was totally funny, standing there and watching this, less than 48 hours after the polls had closed, how two grown Republican males could be so terrified of a Democrat woman in downtown San Diego, California.
It was only politics, one of the veteran reporters later opined, and said the endorsement, and joining of forces, had been anticipated.
But the sight of them standing together in that way had an effect on the doorjamb. Francis stayed at 2.5, but Jerry Sanders shrank. From almost the 6-foot mark, he shrank down to barely 5. He had stepped back from the leadership principle of standing alone, and he had done it in the presence of a man less than half of his leadership size.
It was a tactical mistake and didn’t show off a leader’s instinct for the easy decision. He could have had the Francis endorsement and his leadership principles, too. Sanders might have directed Francis to mail in his endorsement. Then Sanders, after a delay appropriate to the endorsement’s worth, might have announced it on his own terms, as perhaps the second or third item on that day’s briefing agenda. He could have had the Francis camp support – where else are they going to turn in November, against the newly coiffed Democrat hell-blonde? – and his command presence, too.
But the presence got away. Five feet is a little short for aura, and the principles aren’t negotiable. It may not cost him the election, though – other short individuals have held the position – and then it will be OK, because winning in November is everything. Isn’t it?
Journalist, author and educator Michael Grant has been putting his spin on San Diego, and the city putting its spin on him, since 1972. His Web site is at www.michaelgrant.com.