Politics | State Politics

The Nerd leads

AP photo

Whether in the private or public sectors, leadership matters.

After watching the gubernatorial candidates debate at the Detroit Regional Chamber Mackinac Policy Conference in 2010, I was worried. At a time when Michigan longed for bold, decisive leadership, leadership went AWOL – at least during that encounter. The candidates, all of whom I knew to some degree, were better than what they displayed at their coming-out party.

We all know how the election turned out. “One Tough Nerd” Rick Snyder, the centrist, moderate candidate, won the primary and walked away with the general election.

A little more than two years into his role as Michigan’s Governor, Rick Snyder has shown a determination to tackle tough and long-neglected problems. Regardless of whether you like his solutions or not, he is a problem-solver, ready to lead. (He certainly has had his share of missteps along the way including the recent botched vetting process that missed a tax problem on his otherwise stellar pick for Detroit EM).

Snyder began with a goal to reinvent the state around the theme of “More and better jobs and a future for our kids.” The report card on how well the people grade what the he has done will come Election Day, November, 2014.

Politicians unwilling to break from safe political lanes – constantly pandering to their political bases, whether public/private employees’ unions, or anti-tax, anti-government rhetoric – are not leaders. They are followers. For Michigan to prosper in this hyper-competitive, disruptive, transformational, knowledge economy, where ideas and jobs can and do move around the globe effortlessly; we must demand more than the same old behavior that has driven us into the ditch during the past decade.

Michigan, at multiple levels, has been spending and pretending for far too long. Snyder grasps the concept that if you have a hole in your roof,  pretending to fix it will not keep the rain out. He has set about fixing the holes.

Snyder holds the problem solving gene. Leadership begins with strong beliefs.  Leadership continues with persuading a critical mass to adopt new beliefs and a willingness to do the hard work, endure shared sacrifices and the hardships necessary to put belief into practice. The next election will provide a test for the voters of Michigan who are willing to swallow the bitterness to solve problems which have been neglected and festering for decades.

As we witnessed in the Lost Decade, a greater danger rests in staying comfortably in the present partisan lanes telling the citizens only what they want to hear.

I have not agreed nor liked every decision from the Snyder Administration. What I DO admire is his willingness to take on tough issues and lead. Our governor seems to be following FDR who said during the Great Depression: “Do something. If that does not work, do something else – but for God’s sake, do something!”

Leadership matters – like it or not.

Tom Watkins
Tom Watkins is a U.S./China business and educational consultant. He served as Michigan State Superintendent of Schools, 2001-05, was deputy and Director of the Michigan Department of Mental Health, 1983-90 and served as President and CEO of the Economic Council of Palm Beach County, FL., 1996-2001. He has a life-long interest in China and serves on the University of Michigan Confucius Institute, the Detroit Chinese Business Association and Michigan Economic Development Corporation international advisory board