As the United States mourned the passing of its 38th President, Gerald Ford, fond memories and kind words came like a flood from all who remembered him. Ford had arrived to the Oval Office after Richard Nixon’s deceit and dishonesty had robbed the Presidency of its honor. As President, Ford would face the daunting task of restoring respect to the White House. In doing so, he built a legacy as a healer, and left us with lessons on how to rebuild in the aftermath of a leadership crisis.
1. Character Comes First
When a leader’s moral failure forces them to resign, the biggest charge of the incoming leader is to restore the integrity of the position. In the wake of the scandal-wracked Nixon administration, the United States desperately needed a man of unquestioned character. Gerald Ford was precisely the man for the job. His unpretentious nature and civility were noted by political friends and foes alike. As a testament to his stalwart moral fiber, President Ford’s approval rating quickly soared to over 70% upon taking office.
2. Cleaning the Slate Is Necessary to Move Forward
Whether being forced out due to moral flaws or poor financial decision-making, a departing leader can leave hurt, pain, and resentment within an organization. The incoming leader must have the courage to clean the slate and offer a new beginning. Finger-pointing over past failures or the bitterness that comes from a leader’s betrayal has the potential to shipwreck a company. The incoming leader must be a catalyst for healing by erasing the lingering negativity of a prior leader’s meltdown.With the unraveling of President Nixon’s dubious activities in the Oval Office, a dark cloud hung over the country. The nation’s premier leadership position had been tainted. With the impending trial of former President Nixon threatening to embroil the nation in a messy and prolonged media circus, President Ford made the tough decision to pardon Nixon of all wrongdoing. At the time, the pardon drew harsh criticism and cost President Ford his popularity. However, in retrospect, political analysts laud President Ford for bringing healing to the country by cleaning the slate and allowing the nation to move past a painful chapter in its history.
3. Coalition-building Restores Harmony
When a leader makes a mess of an organization and steps down, factions develop in the resulting leadership vacuum. Critics of the prior leader squabble with one another over the best way to move forward. Cliques form within the organization, and each lobbies to bring in a new leader who is sympathetic to their point of view. Replacing Nixon put Gerald Ford directly in the heat of a contentious atmosphere. Thankfully, President Ford was renowned for his deftness in working with parties on both sides of the aisle. His open-mind and ability to put aside his ego would enable him build the coalitions needed to get the country back on track. Former President Jimmy Carter, Ford’s opponent in the Presidential election of 1976, commented on Gerald Ford’s strength as a unifier, remembering how he, “frequently rose above politics by emphasizing the need for bipartisanship and seeking common ground on issues critical to our nation.”
Cleansing the stains of an incompetent leader is never easy, but, as demonstrated by President Gerald Ford, the task can be done. By displaying strong character, cleaning the slate of past mistakes, and building coalitions, a leader can chart a fresh course into the future.