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Letter to the editor: Mike Butler: On the qualities of statesmanship

What became palpably apparent was the hunger in the room for a more effective model of leadership and politics than presently exists.
Image by Larry White from Pixabay


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I recently had the opportunity to comprehensively discuss the concept of statesmanship and much more with a group of local leaders through the Chamber of Commerce. What became palpably apparent was the hunger in the room for a more effective model of leadership and politics than presently exists. The discussion led to the need for a statesmanship institute in which those who aspire to elected office and other appointed leaders at all levels of government can learn the principles of statesmanship. 

In the seminar we discussed various perspectives of statesmanship, sometimes hard to define but known when we see it. 

They are adept at harmonizing contrasts. They have the internal temperament to reconcile and integrate often complex opposing ideas, including their own, by helping those who are in opposition envision something greater than their personal perspectives. They are those who bring life to the phrase, “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.” 

They transcend the rhetoric that keeps us stuck in a vicious cycle of never-ending drama, the marketing of fear and fault, the assigning of blame, and conversations that exploit the wounds of other people or whole communities. 

They shift the nature of our conversations away from what is wrong, who’s to blame and why we need to be afraid, towards the gifts and generosity of people, and talking about a future we all want to live into. 

Their approach to communication simultaneously appeals to vastly different minds and personalities, stimulates imagination, provokes empathy and critical thinking without arousing antagonism. 

They connect with others in ways that avoid preconceived opinions and can place new perspectives gracefully into our minds without prompting self-defense and personal resentment. 

They see the world through the lens of the goodness that resides within people and within our communities rather than through the lens of their deficiencies. They don’t see people or communities as problems to be solved or fixed; they see people and communities as possibilities. 

They disdain the tired and worn-out models of patriarchy, Machiavellian tactics, poor-me victimization, and hidden agendas as they encourage partnerships, transparency, level playing fields, chosen accountability, service, and opportunities. 

They believe great communities are created by great citizens and less by great government, improved services, good leaders, or specialized expertise. 

They are deft at “connecting the dots” in highly complex environments and in our society. 

They are skilled in discussing the many nuances present in our world and our lives and encourage us to progress beyond seeing our world as good or bad, the either/or method of reasoning, people as liberal or conservative, issues as black and white and to think more comprehensively than what we hear or see from our favorite “news” source. 

They encourage us to study the trend lines and pay less attention to the headlines. They understand the context of history, the origins and causes of social and economic circumstances, and love to talk about a future that is different than the present or past. 

They see the value in becoming partners with evolution. They recognize and can leverage those rare opportunities to accelerate the pace of change. 

They believe every person’s voice counts, their thoughts matter and, most importantly, their humanness is sacred. 

They are imbued with a graciousness that has minimized their own hard edges, their egoic dogmatism, and their personal self-righteousness. 

They have a quality of grace that is attractive to others and possess an integrity-filled influence that encourages others to become designers of their own experiences. 

They are quite skilled at asking powerful questions which invite us to examine our own personal motives, inspire us to think beyond the boxes we might be stuck in, and call us to choose personal accountability. 

They are less interested in the next election and more interested in the next generation. 

Many of us can think of people throughout history that embody the above-listed qualities. In the statesmanship seminar with local leaders, someone suggested the principles of statesmanship should be part of the curriculum in our high schools. 

Anyone is welcome to email me at if you are interested in thinking through the design and implementation of a statesmanship institute or if you just want to comment on the above perspectives.