The other day, I realized something alarming about myself.
I’d been thinking about President Obama and his low approval numbers. “If I was interested in polling,” Obama said, “I wouldn’t have run for president.”
Hmm. Is any U.S. president really immune to polls? George W. Bush, near the end of his presidency, was asked: “You’re leaving as one of the most unpopular presidents ever. How does that feel?”
“I was also the most popular president,” Bush said (“Days of Fire,” Peter Baker).
That’s true—Bush’s approval numbers ranged from 25% to 90%, according to Gallup. Imagine a job where, Monday, everyone loves you; Tuesday, no one even likes you.
I definitely couldn’t be president—that’s obvious from a recent Saturday yoga class I attended.
“Is there anyone here,” the teacher asked, “who’s never done yoga?” She seemed to linger on the word never, as if the very idea was preposterous.
I was the only one. “Very unusual,” she said to me. Then, during the class, she praised just about everyone: “Exactly right, Lisa,” she’d say, or, “Lovely Michael. You’ve really got it.”
I was hoping she’d say, “Paul, I can’t believe this is your first class—you’re so natural!” But no, whenever she looked my way, she seemed to frown.
I pictured a besieged U.S. president, say, Abraham Lincoln, in my situation. Lincoln was reviled and ridiculed—he might have benefited from yoga. I imagined Lincoln standing on his yoga mat in the warrior pose, while his yoga teacher frowned. Would Lincoln have cared? Doubt it.
But I did.
“Care about what other people think,” said the ancient philosopher, Lao Tzu, “and you will always be their prisoner.”
Maybe. But maybe part of you never stops caring. Maybe the trick, as in yoga, is simply not to get stuck in that position.
Tip: Your job, as a leader, isn’t to be popular. It’s to do what’s right.
p.s. Of the last 11 presidents, Eisenhower through Obama, the American public now only rates three as “outstanding/above average” (Gallup, 11/13):
Kennedy gets high scores from 74%; Reagan, 61%; Clinton, 55%.
Two of those men were shot; the other impeached.
© Copyright 2014 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.