Pete Buttigieg: Using Adversity to Become a Better Leader

Pete Buttigieg Shortest Way Home Doris Kearns Goodiein Leadership in Turbulent Times

To have a deeper understanding of what Pete Buttigieg has to offer this country as a leader, I recommend a book.

Actually, I recommend two books, because if you haven’t yet read Pete’s book The Shortest Way Home, it should be on your nightstand.   Once I read it, back in April, I had an understanding not only of how Pete sees the future of our country, but also the life events that have shaped his own principles.  It’s impossible to read Pete’s book and not feel you are experiencing the thinking of a man guided by personal experience, both good and bad. 

The book I would recommend to pair with Pete’s is Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Leadership in Turbulent Times.  Goodwin is also the author of Team of Rivals, famously cited by former President Barack Obama as a guiding tool for constructing his own cabinet.  

Aside from the notion that reading about great Americans inspires us all to be great Americans ourselves (I like to think so, anyway), Leadership in Turbulent Times is compelling in its recounting of events in the lives of four pivotal men – Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR and Lyndon Johnson – and where their fortunes were reversed by tragedy and their ambitions jeopardized.  

Teddy Roosevelt lost his wife and his mother on the same day.  Abraham Lincoln fought a depression so deep it nearly drove him to suicide.  FDR steered the country through a world war, and battled the long-term effects of polio.  Johnson assumed leadership at a critical juncture, and left behind a legacy where his progress on civil rights was eclipsed by his ill-advised actions during Vietnam.  

By chronicling these leaders’ lives through the angle of personal tribulation, Goodwin serves to not only humanize them, but also to characterize their hardships as crucial lessons which allowed these men to not only endure, but thrive.  By examining how a person overcomes adversity, she explains how that very adversity contributes to the molding of a better leader.

In the nine months since I have supported his campaign, Pete Buttigieg has had several attacks lobbed his way.  When they’ve come, he’s neutralized them honestly and courageously.  He’s done this not by deflecting, tweeting, clouding the waters, or starting a chant.  He’s done it by facing the moment and taking responsibility.  

“Because I couldn’t get it done,” Pete’s plain and clear answer to Rachel Maddow’s debate question on an officer-involved shooting in South Bend will go down in history as a landmark moment in Buttigieg’s story.  

This will be not because it stopped any further use of the story as an attack (it didn’t), but because he made it crystal clear that he was a politician in progress.  There was no, “I have all the answers!” or “Only I can fix this!”  Instead we got, “I’m still working to be better.”  

I remember how I felt hearing him answer so honestly.  I wasn’t staring at a calculated politician; I was looking at a human being who was doing his best, who was taking on far more than most of us ever would, and was willing to be guided by his mistakes in order to reach a greater good, which he was offering to use to serve us all.

Just this week, Pete Buttigieg has met with what is probably the most vicious attack yet.  Will it in hindsight still be seen as the most vicious?  Sadly, I doubt it.  

I was blinded with frustration and anger and what was directed at my candidate this week, to the point where I wondered whether I should take time away from volunteering for him.  Was I getting so involved that I couldn’t stop myself from taking a setback personally?  Would that be healthy for me?  If Pete were not to win the presidency, was I going to end up one of those people news cameras catch in tears outside a slowly deteriorating victory party?

But I imagined what Pete might say about it.  Something like, “These things are gonna happen.  Your head knows it, even if your heart wasn’t ready for it this time.  But giving up the fight here, it won’t change anything.  Face the obstacle, and do your best to change the outcome.”

And sure enough, that’s exactly what Pete did.  He led by example.  If you know the situation I’m referring to, this makes sense.  And if you don’t, I ask that you take it on faith or check in with a friend; I’m not linking to it here.  

Pete took the time to address an opinion one man had, an opinion being broadcast far and wide.  Pete listened more and spoke less, and managed to change the outcome. And now, rather than spending the day trying to create false arguments or condemn the guy who lit the fuse, Pete supporters can yet again point their candidate out to the country – and the world – and say, “look how Pete handled that!”

In our heads, tackling tough dilemmas seems easy.  It’s harder when those dilemmas touch our hearts.  We look to others for guidance.  In this instance, I looked to Pete.  Perhaps Pete looks to Lincoln, FDR, Teddy Roosevelt or Johnson.  Maybe Pete has read Leadership in Turbulent Times. Or maybe he simply possesses an inner fortitude lacking in most of us.  

Whatever it is, I feel stronger to have Pete Buttigieg as an example, not just in how to be a good man, but also in how to be an American another American might want to emulate someday.

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