By Tommy Franks
When the five living presidents met last week to dedicate the George W. Bush Presidential Library, President Bill Clinton gave us pause to think about how leaders need to think and act.
“A couple of times a year in his second term George [Bush] would call me just to talk politics,” said Clinton.
Do you think they argued? We don’t know, but since they come from pretty different political philosophies, it’s likely they verbally “crossed swords” on those calls a few times. But it’s evident that they weren’t disagreeable.
Certainly, George W. could have called his father, the other President Bush. He also could have called on any number of his own advisers to get an expert opinion.
So why did Bush repeatedly call Clinton? I think Bush and Clinton found a way to disagree without being disagreeable, and Bush recognized that hashing his thoughts and arguments out with Clinton would sharpen his own ideas.
Bush respected Clinton enough to call, and Clinton respected Bush enough not only to take the call, but fondly remember it. I think that respect is born out of both presidents recognizing they had far more in common than their disagreements.
There’s much to be learned from this anecdote about dialogue, disagreement and respect. The four key elements are character, common vision, communication and caring – the Four C’s, or the Four Stars of conflict resolution.
Our grand experiment of America can’t last long in gridlock. We’re going to have to get to a point where you can have an opinion, and I can have an opinion, and we can argue the merits of each viewpoint without being disrespectful.
It’s long been my hope that we could mentor our young people in this skill of resolving conflicts through civil discourse, rather than civil discord. To disagree respectfully, to listen actively and to understand both sides of issues we all face as a nation.
I’ve tried to do this with the annual Four Star Leadership Program. For the last five summers, we have brought 50 of the brightest high school student leaders from around the country to Oklahoma Christian University. The students get briefings from authors and athletes, politicians, military leaders and business leaders. Then they write editorial-style opinions and argue their points in debate competitions. They’re encouraged to have strong opinions, but coached to use the Four C’s to respect opinions of others, because the solution to any problem might be in your opponent’s answer.
Without dialogue there can never be a solution for a problem.
High school students who have shown signs of leadership can apply to Four Star Leadership at http://fourstarleader.com. The deadline is May 15.
Gen. Tommy Franks is retired former head of U.S. Central Command and founder of the Four Star Leadership program.