Monday, October 22, 2007

A "Useful Idiom" but Sloppy Journalism

I think I know what someone means when they use the term "government leader." That would be someone we elect and continue to trust because they behave themselves and advance wise policies and achieve significant results for the common good instead of personal gain or special interests, or something close to that. But what is a "business leader," anyway?

During the last week, I read the term far too often to let it pass without comment.
Brenda Blagg (TMN) and Aaron Sadler (TMN) wrote about Arkansas business leaders who dined with George Bush; Steve Caraway (TMN) and Richard Massey (ADG) told us about Springdale business leaders who held captive the city government; only Laura Kellams (ADG) put the term in quotes when she wrote about select "business leaders" adoring George Bush. Maybe they just use the term instead of writing "businessmen," since reality and political correctness make that term archaic. That shorthand applies a positive connotation to any businessman they want to quote or write about (and it is almost always men), but it still doesn't reflect reality or explain how one earns the title. One dictionary gives several synonyms for business leader including baron, magnate, mogul, and tycoon, but I haven't seen our local scribes use those descriptive terms lately.

Leadership is a relational term that implies followership, but I never see any group of business owners or managers referred to as "business followers." Don't leaders have to have followers, and, if so, why do we never get to read what they think or do? The term business leader also implies involvement in our economic system, so what about the other players? I haven't read much lately about "consumer leaders," or "client leaders," or "employee leaders" in our local newspapers. Do customers and employees have no leaders, therefore justifying being ignored or relegated to treatment as mere pawns by both businessmen and journalists?

The Harvard Business School maintains an online database of Great American Business Leaders that
identifies and chronicles the lives of 20th century men and women who "shaped the ways that people live, work, and interact." They include seven people born in Arkansas, but none are from Northwest Arkansas. It includes Sam Walton (OK) and David Glass (MO) but no one from Arkansas named Ramsey, Hunt, Reynolds, Walker, Tyson, George, Scott, Lindsey, Caughlin, Israel, Barber, Terminello, Dillard, Stephens, or Koenig.

My point is, I guess, that not everyone who has a lot of money and wants more is really a business leader. John Lewis was a true
transformational business leader who cared not just about his own businesses and profits but worked tirelessly for a better community. He had courage, vision and passion that
inspired and harnessed the collective energy of all our citizens. To regularly and casually call those who do anything less a "business leader" is to cheapen the term and to besmirch the name of those who truly were and are.

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