There Can Be No Paean Without Pain

Aug 09, 2011, 12:07 ET from Webster University -- Saint Louis Campus

Commentary by Dr. Benjamin Ola. Akande and Chuck Feltz

ST. LOUIS, Aug. 9, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Seeing the way leaders in Washington were smiling after the debt ceiling law was passed last week belied the pain they were no doubt feeling from the self-inflicted wounds incurred during the debate.  Every elected official in Washington is now suffering from the lowest favorable ratings of all time, while the international financial communities, oddly quiet as spectators, found their voice in Standard and Poor's this weekend.  If S&P's verdict is unwelcome, it is nonetheless a helpful wake-up call, much like a bad cholesterol test result during an annual physical.  We know we need to change our behavior, we know we are killing ourselves, but we just can't stand the thought of a diet.

In the aftermath of the debt ceiling debate, a highly charged, emotional and acrimonious debate, the members of the global audience who were privy to the debate between the Democrats and the Republicans were subjected to all viewpoints including the sublime and the downright ridiculous. The pity of it all is that the government is made to look like it is engaged in a fight to finish with the people it has sworn to protect and defend at all times.

If you listen to economists who know what they are talking about - economists who are not politicians (read, not asking for votes) - you will come away from the debt ceiling debate extremely depressed and feeling very sorry that this great U.S. engine of wealth creation has been exposed as a poorly run economy which has, for the past 12 years, exhibited bad fiscal judgment calls by both parties.

What do we do moving forward? The government must cultivate and sustain the faith of the citizens. It must ensure that the citizens believe in its policies and programs. One way to do that is to ensure that our elected officials practice what they preach. If they ask the citizens to make sacrifices, they too must be seen to be making the same sacrifice. It's time that President Obama and our elected officials summon enough courage, articulate their argument and speak convincingly and even bluntly, so that the citizens of this nation are left without the false impression that all is well now and all is going to be well forever and ever.   It would be nice if the candor was accompanied with some respect for our intelligence and the possibility of different viewpoints.

The time is now for a more persuasive argument that is reality-based, going beyond the carrot and stick approach, and addressing the hopeless reality of this country's economic situation with the determination to steer the nation out of the woods.

Our elected officials can do great things. They can change the course of history. America could be better-managed and -led. A meticulous implementation of the debt agreement is necessary, so we wait until the next round in November when the "super committee" must come to an agreement on how to reduce government spending by $1.5 trillion. One thing is crystal clear: there can be no accolades or paean without pain.

November is ordinarily a time of thanksgiving.  It is doubtful anyone will have anything to be thankful to Washington for when they sit to feast on turkey this year.  This fall presents an opportunity for our leaders to actually lead by exhibiting one of the hallmark attributes of great leadership: the opportunity to learn from experience and to deploy those lessons to deliver greater results. To continue the "old way harder" in the face of new information and lessons is one of the greatest failures of leadership: to put your own comfort ahead of those you are obligated to serve. The choice is the clear, the commitment to be determined.

About the Authors

Benjamin Ola. Akande, Ph.D. ( is a Professor of Economics and Dean of the George Herbert Walker School of Business & Technology, Webster University St. Louis, Mo.

Chuck Feltz ( has been the CEO or president of five companies and is a founding partner of Engage Consulting Group. He is the co-author of the new book, "Never By Chance: Aligning People and Strategy Through Intentional Leadership" (Wiley and Sons, February, 2010).

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SOURCE Webster University -- Saint Louis Campus