Ted Cruz is manically obsessed with becoming President and gaining the ultimate leadership role, but his attitude, words and actions offer clear evidence that he has very little understanding of what it means to be a real leader.
It is apparent from Cruz’s history and actions that he believes the path to leadership is to be anti-establishment. From his time in school, through his climb up the political ladder, to his current campaign for president, Cruz built a reputation as one who fought bitterly against any establishment he encountered. Philosophically Cruz is right to adopt this approach, because resisting the status quo is a way – sometimes the only way – to achievement and leadership. However, Cruz’s mean-spirited, dogmatic and implacable take-no-prisoners style is the wrong way to go about it. His strategy to pillage and burn the status quo may gain some victories in the short-term, but in the long-run it leads to failed leadership. It’s fine to be an anti-establishment leader, just so long as you offer a workable alternative to the status quo.
There has never been a major party candidate who has generated as much personal dislike and disdain from campaign workers and fellow candidates than Ted Cruz. It is one thing to passionately argue over failed policy, but leadership is precluded when those attacks against the establishment become personal in nature, as they often are when it comes to Cruz. Such as the time when Cruz took to the floor of the Senate to publicly brand the Republican Senate leader as a liar.
The New York Times recently ran a background article on Cruz; the typical feeling of those who knew or worked with him was summed up by a former college roommate who was quoted as saying that if it came to voting for Cruz for president, he would rather open a phone book and pick another name at random. A Washington newspaper recently polled members of the Senate and asked them to (anonymously) list the three most disliked senators – Cruz was the only one to receive any votes!
As I said, there is nothing inherently wrong with being anti-establishment (believe me, I know) but successful leadership comes from changing the established way of thinking and acting, not destroying the establishment. Leadership does not come from always being against something, but by being for something that is better. In other words, if you don’t like the way the establishment works, instead of trying to destroy it, identify and fight for for ideas that will make it work better.
The most effective way to be anti-establishment is to work from within the system to change it, rather than from outside trying to destroy it. It is one thing for an outsider to rail against the system, but the real credibility for change comes to those who fight for change from within the system.
Challenging a Vulnerable Establishment
There are a number of factors that need to exist if one seeks to successfully lead a challenge to the status quo:
- Attacks on the establishment must be based on truth. The establishment must actually be out of touch with current reality; even if that truth is not admitted, identified or accepted by all.
- The “way we’ve always done it” approach is no longer working effectively. This creates a leadership opportunity when those frustrated by the intransigence of the status quo see the problem, but lack the ideas or power implement changes.
- The individual seeking to lead change must be seen as proposing rather than opposing. Simply attacking or tearing down the establishment, without offering a positive, constructive alternative, leads only to conflict and crisis, not leadership.
Leading the Anti-Establishment Attack
There are any number of examples in business that validate an anti-establishment strategy as the best path to effective leadership and success. Al Neuharth founder of USA TODAY, Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines and Ted Turner of CNN fame. all offered ideas that went against and were resisted by the establishment in their industry. For example, that a national newspaper would never work; airlines could not go from elite to egalitarian and there is no market for 24-hour news. The point here is that these business leaders were passionately anti-establishment, but they offered ideas to change the establishment and make it better, not to tear it down.
This is where Cruz makes his mistake. Aside from the fact that most of those who know and work with Ted Cruz believe he is, at his core, simply not a good person, it is his unabashed belief that all is bad about the establishment and therefore it must be destroyed – without offering constructive alternatives – that disqualifies him as a true leader. And this is a great lesson for any of us who wish to assume the mantle of leadership and achieve success by challenging the status quo of any establishment system. If you think the system if broken, don’t discard it, change it.