J.C. Watts seventh Distinguished Professor of Leadership at Elon University speaks about qualities of a good leader

Marlena Chertock

FEB. 22, 2011

image of J.C. Watts

J.C. Watts spoke at Elon on Feb. 22 about the qualities of a good leader. Photo courtesy of Caitlin O'Donnell.

J.C. Watts, the chairman of J.C. Watts Companies and former Republican congressman from Okla., spoke about the qualities of a good leader at Elon University in McCrary Theatre on Tuesday, Feb. 22 at 7:30 p.m. His speech, titled “Leadership Lessons from the Sidelines and Aisles of Congress,” focused on societal ills and leadership.

Watts is the seventh Isabella Cannon Distinguished Visiting Professor of Leadership at Elon University. The visiting professor is brought to the university for week-long classroom visits, a speech and a question-and-answer session, which will take place in Whitley Auditorium on Feb. 23 at 11 a.m.

“There’s one thing that I think you have to have in order to be a leader and that’s character,” Watts said.

Leaders need to have character

There’s a character deficit in America today, according to Watts.

“The economic meltdown is caused by men and women who choose not to exercise character,” he said. “People have character issues in business, in politics.”

If Republicans and Democrats didn’t neglect doing what’s right, America might not be trying to recover from the meltdown, Watts said.

But congressmen and people who ascribe to one political party are so caught up with playing for their team that they often forgo fact and what’s right over loyalty, according to Watts.

Taking the loyalty lens off

Politics can’t continue to be seen through the lens of Republican and Democrat, Watts said.

“We have to get beyond cheering for our teams because they have the same color jersey we do,” he said. “I think one of the top things we as citizens can do is get out of our Republican and Democrat caps.”

Disagreement is necessary, but there’s a difference between being in disagreement and being disagreeable, according to Watts.

It’s necessary for people to peel the onion for themselves, to study the facts and issues and come to their own opinions, he said.

The problem occurs when leaders listen and follow the cheer of the crowd, Watts said.

“They forget the fact that what’s popular isn’t always right and what’s right isn’t always popular,” he said, “The only thing right is to get by and only thing wrong is to get caught. That’s the ideology today.”

Holding people, leaders accountable

To sustain the greatness of America, Watts said it’s necessary to rethink how problems are dealt with.

“We’ve done things the same old way but expect different results,” Watts said. “We’ve got to look at different ways of dealing with the old problems.”

Watts’ simple solution to many of the issues such as poverty, education and taxes is accountability. Holding people accountable and coming up with a way to measure effectiveness is important, according to Watts.

“Sports teams keep score,” Watts said. “If we didn’t win in professional athletics, I lost my job. If football coaches don’t perform, they lose their job. Why shouldn’t people lose their jobs in politics, in education if they’re not performing? Why shouldn’t we keep score? If we’re not keeping score, we’re not measuring.”

Honesty is also a key to leadership, according to Watts.

“Be honest with your troops,” he said. “My football coach told us the truth.”

Watts wants his grandchildren to inherit not just a normal nation but an exceptional nation, he said.

“We’re still America,” Watts said. “Everything rises and falls on leadership.”


Watts talks about citizens seeking out facts for themselves

Watts talks about being overtaxed in America

Watts talks about corruption


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About Marlena Chertock

Marlena Chertock's first collection of poetry, On that one-way trip to Mars, is available from Bottlecap Press. Her articles have appeared in The Washington Post, Marketplace, and WTOP. Her poems and fiction has appeared in The Deaf Poets Society, Moonsick Magazine, and Paper Darts.

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