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The difference between celebrity and leadership — and why it matters

grubaugh new picBy DENNIS GRUBAUGH

    As a society, we’ve become quite attached to shiny objects.
    Somebody, or something, catches our eye, and soon we’re like cultists, placing all kinds of importance on the “shine” when our common sense is telling us otherwise. The talk builds, the image grows and before you know it we have a full-fledged celebrity or fad … or something just as de rigueur. The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan and suddenly every adolescent boy was growing his bangs out. Soon, life was changed forever.
    Simpleminded awe is the only logical conclusion I can draw from our fascination with celebrities of all sorts, the people who pass through the limelight because of their acting ability, vocal cords, business acumen or sports talent.
    That light does fade, though, and some of those celebrities who once caught our eye are often left catching a cab for some has-been haven.  It is at that point that we wonder if our fascination was justified or misplaced. Did we attach too much importance to the spotlight?
    Which brings me to Donald Trump, Oprah Winfrey and the next great American thing.
    Mr. Trump won election not because of ideas but because of flair. His sense of bombast, his eccentricities, his billionaire ways — what he lacked in practical experience he made up for in bravado. He was so outrageous there just had to be something to him. And enough people bought into the celebrity that the message really didn’t matter.
    On the campaign trail, he was an interesting character and a reality TV host at his best. But as a president he is the ultimate Celebrity Apprentice, and it has shown every single day for a year.
    The majority of Americans now realize the mistake, and they ask themselves, “What do we do now?”
    Open door, enter Oprah. One endearing Golden Globes speech later, and the most famous TV personality in the world is in line for the presidency.
    Never mind that the brain behind Harpo Productions has never been in politics. Forget the fact that she never previously mentioned a word – to my knowledge – about being president. Americans love her,
    and Americans pick their leaders. Oprah, to her credit, now says she doesn’t have the DNA for the job.
    The trouble is there is a lot of difference between fame and leadership.
    I fear there is a struggling element of society so desperate for guidance that it is ready to hang its hat on anyone who strikes its fancy at the right time. That’s a dangerous proposition, as we are now finding out.
    As my father-in-law was fond of saying, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. He also said, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll put up with anything.”
    Don’t take leadership lightly. It’s not success in business; it’s not the ability to interview people; it’s not the talent to swing a bat, dunk a ball, or battle bad guys on the big screen, although any of those could be good traits in a larger package.
    Leadership is the ability to put others above one’s self while guiding from within. It’s the ability to be decisive, be deliberate, be honest and be open. But most of all, it’s about doing the right things. Courage and kindheartedness and respect are pluses.
    In Oprah’s case, we correctly applauded an eight-minute speech championing women and the men who support them. But that hardly was testimony for what she could do to lead the free world. Still, social media was ablaze with her praise. Draft Oprah is alive and well.
    The electorate needs to get over its love of celebrity or, at the very least, put it in its proper place. People are famous for all kinds of reasons, not all of them White House worthy.
    When it comes to the most important job in the land, voters need to focus more on capable people who are proven leaders, who have been tested in office, who show they have compassion for humanity and who have a track record of service.
    Anything less would take us down the road we’re now on, where rashness and inexperience are costing us standing around the world.
    Dennis Grubaugh is editor and partner of the Illinois Business Journal. He can be reached at or (618) 977-6865.

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