Biden and the Challenges of Leadership
During the lead-up to Nov. 3, I had occasion for many phone calls outside the country. Some were to the Middle East, several were to the United Kingdom and, of course, a number were to my native Canada. Without exception, all my international compatriots were glued to coverage of the U.S. election. They could not get enough of it. I could think of no other foreign election that would matter as much to anyone, anywhere. What happens in America matters; our international presence matters.
When Joe Biden ascends to the Oval Office in January, he will be inheriting a divided nation in the depths of a pandemic-induced recession. His leadership style as commander-in-chief undoubtedly will unfold in the coming months, though in his address to the nation Nov. 7, we saw a leader who was refreshingly inclusive in his call for a united front.
Leadership is about setting a direction, building a vision that is a call to action and creating something new. It’s also about establishing trust. Strong leaders are dynamic, exciting and inspirational. Biden will need those traits as he and his administration face a myriad of issues, from micro to macro, domestic to global and tactical to strategic, but I anticipate three main areas of focus that will require strong leadership from our new president.
First, the economic downturn has some 11 million people unemployed, and one third of them have been out of work for at least six months. While this is a marked decrease from the spring, when 23 million were jobless at the April count, a multitude of small businesses and major retail chains have either closed shop or filed for bankruptcy. Since the end of 2019, the U.S. economy has contracted some 2.8%. Biden campaigned on a plan to infuse some $2 trillion into the economy to fix our infrastructure, and that is a wise move. The economy is a $20 trillion hungry beast, and it relies on an incredible network of roads and bridges, railways and ports, clean water and sewer systems. This infrastructure is old and much of it is crumbling, so Biden’s leadership challenge here is to cajole his old comrades in Congress to come together and work with him to pass a bipartisan infrastructure package. This will stimulate the economy and put people back to work. The beauty of this is that it can be done while interest rates are low.
Secondly, America is in dire need of a culture of inclusiveness. Political disagreements in America have become corrosive. With the help of social media, we shout each other down and display contempt towards those who disagree with us. Biden may be uniquely qualified to bring us together, for he is a man of fundamental decency — an important trait for a leader. A good start to establishing this “culture of inclusion” would be for Biden to select a couple of Republicans for his cabinet. Building this inclusiveness and convincing Americans to consider alternative perspectives will be, I believe, one of the biggest tests he faces as our leader.
Biden’s third leadership challenge is to ensure that America stands tall internationally, even as a movement in the U.S. asserts that the country should not get involved in matters or conflicts beyond our boundaries. Our own history shows us this assertion is wrong and dangerous. America took that stance in the early stages of World War II — as Hitler invaded countries and killed millions of Jews, the U.S. followed a wait-and-see approach. Pearl Harbor was the result.
After that war, a new world order was established, with the U.S. in the forefront. But today, very powerful, authoritarian regimes and fundamentalist movements — to name but two of the forces — have their tentacles embedded throughout the world, whittling away at other countries’ politics and industry with sabotage and spies, even interfering with U.S. presidential elections. The world order that developed after World War II must be preserved. America will ignore this at its peril.
In his impressive outreach to the nation Nov. 7, Biden suggested we give each other a chance. He is right. Continuing down a pathway of parochial self-interests will only weaken the mother ship and destroy the passion that has made America great. Biden’s ability as a leader will be put to the test. The country’s future—our futures—depend on him succeeding.