My plane landed in Las Vegas after 9pm, and we were late.

I was traveling on business and tired, but excited to spend some time in Las Vegas at the beautiful Red Rock Resort. When I tried to check in an hour later, I was told that there were no rooms ready, but they generously gave me a credit for food and drink while I waited.

I strolled around the resort, hung out in the casino, and sampled the bar. Finally I headed up to the room at midnight (now 3am eastern) and when I opened the door to my room, I couldn’t help but laugh.

For the next six hours I was to be treated to luxury beyond my imagination. My $2800 a night 2000 square foot high-roller suite sported five flat screen televisions, an amazing stereo system, an enormous sectional couch, a marble topped bar, and a giant Jacuzzi. The only thing missing was a pool table for “naked billiards.” I started taking pictures while I ran water in the tub. I happily added bath salts and jumped in. It was lavish, it was ridiculous, and six hours later, it was gone. I checked into a regular room, having forfeited sleep for a chance to enjoy surreal decadence.

I recently read this article from the “National Review,” Like a Boss.  In it Kevin Williamson points out that candidate Mitt Romney is fabulously wealthy, has fathered five sons and as a result, is a far superior candidate for president.

He encourages Romney to embrace his wealth. “Now Romney should quit pretending that he’s an ordinary schmo with ordinary schmo problems and start living a little larger. He should not be ashamed of being loaded; instead, he should have some fun with it. He will discover something that the Obama campaign has not quite figured out yet: Americans do not hate rich people. Americans love rich people.”

Maybe Williamson’s piece was a bit of satire, but it felt pretty serious.

The same day a very different post caught my attention, Gregory Gull’s A Real Crisis.  In it he explores the relationship between individualism and collectivism and the role of systemic problems in the success and failure of leadership. He posits that exhortations for leaders to change their style to avoid the failures that have haunted leaders of late will do nothing as long as that raison d’être for business, short-term profit maximization, is the single most important measure of leadership success.

He concludes “Until we change the focus of our attention and until we educate accordingly nothing can and will change. Unless the aim changes the system will remain as is, ensuring more unintended negative consequences for society.” In essence, nothing leaders do will matter until the game changes.

So what do we do with these competing ideas? One author calls for leadership that embraces the status quo, the virile and wealthy businessman. The other contends that leadership matters little in our profit-driven society. For me, these two articles and my adventure in Las Vegas have given me a framework from which I’d like to talk with you about leadership.

There are some important questions I’d like to ask, but before we talk about them, let me tighten this up by mentioning some points that maybe we can agree upon and set aside.

First, money changes people. It certainly turned my head. Six hours in a luxury suite made me far less appreciative of the lovely “regular room” I stayed in the second night, even though it was far nicer than any other hotel room in which I had stayed.

And it wasn’t until I got home and finally got some sleep in my own bed, the one with my favorite ratty comforter and squishy pillows, that I realized how far from my roots I had been lured. I don’t think the siren call of money is news to anyone, and it was only meant to be the starting point of this discussion.

Second, it is easy to be distracted by the politics here. I want to be clear. I am a staunch democrat, but that does not change the fact that I appreciate the fact Romney flies coach on occasion and gives generously to charity. I don’t think fathering sons makes you a man, but sticking around to parent them does. I sincerely hope he has done that well. I’d like to get past this as a political debate and focus on some different issues.

Does leadership matter? Is our society so focused on money and short term success that it is a rigged game? Will all leaders, regardless of style or focus, eventually lose, either by not making “enough” money or by compromising their ethics to win?

What is it we want from our leaders? Do we need them to be powerful, wealthy, virile, and ruthless? Do we want them to be humble, compassionate, smart, and passionate? What role does strength, vision, curiosity, and innovation play in leadership?

The Lead Change Group is an excellent place to discuss these issues. In many ways this is our purpose. So I am asking you. Yes YOU, who loiter out there reading and tweeting about leadership. The questions are on the table, and I am personally inviting you to join this discussion.

What do you think? Does leadership matter? How? What is it we want from our leaders?

Deborah Costello
Deborah Costello is a teacher and the Mathematics Department Chair at Trinity Preparatory School in Winter Park, Florida. She also serves as a consultant for the College Board. Her passions include leadership, mathematics, education, service, and triathlons. She's also a co-author of The Character Based Leader: Instigating a Leadership Revolution... One Person at a Time.
Deborah Costello

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