Harvard Study Finds 'crisis' In U.S. Leadership

This story was written by Nini S. Moorhead, Harvard Crimson
Americans think their leaders are failing in almost every arena, according to a new Harvard study.

The third annual National Leadership Index, released this week, also revealed that 77 percent of Americans believe there is a "crisis" in leadership today -- up from 65 percent in 2005.

The survey of more than 1,000 Americans, conducted jointly by the Kennedy School of Government's Center for Public Leadership and U.S. News & World Report, suggests Americans were especially critical of the media, the executive branch, and Congress. Of the 12 sectors respondents rated, those three received the lowest marks.

Even the institutions that fared best -- the military and medicine -- received barely passing grades, with respondents expressing only "moderate" confidence.

David R. Gergen, the Center for Public Leadership's director, said he found the results disturbing.

"There's something more profound here than unhappiness with the president and the war in Iraq," said Gergen, a former advisor to the Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton administrations. "It speaks to a generalized anxiety among Americans as they face a growing agenda of problems and very little progress in overcoming them."

The public disillusionment is part of a historic trajectory that began in the 1970s, with high-profile political assassinations and the Vietnam War, Kennedy School professors said.

Barbara Kellerman, a former director at the Center, said leaders face a difficult audience, citing Lawrence H. Summers' resignation from the University presidency last year.

"When Summers made his last misstep, people just rose up against him. The days of leaders being immune to criticism are over," said Kellerman, the author of "Bad Leadership: What It Is, How It Happens, Why It Matters."

Ronald A. Heifetz, the center's founding director, said the source of the country's problems may be a failure in citizenry, not a breakdown in leadership.

"Fundamentally, there needs to be a development of the citizenry to be more sophisticated and responsible in demanding real leadership," he said. "They demand pandering, and then punish the panderers."

The National Leadership Index is a collaborative effort between the center, U.S. News, and Yankelovich, Inc. U.S. News published the results this week in conjunction with a list of "America's Best Leaders" -- another partnership between the magazine and the center.

Gergen, an editor-at-large for U.S. News, praised the "Best Leaders" list, which includes Michael J. Fox, Yo-Yo Ma '76, and Nancy Pelosi.

"We wanted to spotlight these wonderful role models from across the country that can give us hope," he said.
© 2007 Harvard Crimson via U-WIRE