07/10/2013 01:16 pm ET Updated Sep 09, 2013

The Good Leadership Gap in Honduras

One of my favorite quotes about leadership is from David Plouffe, who managed the presidential campaigns for Barack Obama. Responding to cynical comments delivered at a Republican National Convention belittling Mr. Obama's experience as a community organizer, Mr. Plouffe once said, "Community organizing is how ordinary people respond to out-of-touch politicians and their failed policies." He added, "Throughout our history, ordinary people have made good on America's promise by organizing for change from the bottom up." I like this perspective on leadership because I think it gets to the heart of why so many issues and problems in societies go unaddressed and unresolved.

The idea that change is a process that should start from the top and filter down to the bottom is certainly prevalent in Honduras, and this -- perhaps more than anything else -- is the reason that the social and economic situation in the country never seems to get any better for the vast majority of Hondurans. Most are awaiting solutions and vision from those who hold "official" positions within institutions such as government and the Church when there are so many other individuals in communities throughout Honduras who possess the kind of ideas, energy, and resolve to truly transform the country... but they either do not know it or are not finding (or being allowed) the opportunities to lead.

I think that one of the problems is that our traditional image of leaders is extremely narrow, confined to those relatively few "above" us rather than encompassing many of those around us as well. The fact is that the wisest, most intelligent, and most capable of us are not necessarily the ones who have been elected or appointed to an office. And all too often those who have been elected or appointed to lead within institutions grow more interested in protecting their positions than serving the interests of the people for whom the institutions were created to serve in the first place. The tendency then is to try and preserve the status quo rather than effectively deal with difficult issues and problems. Nothing gets done, and thus things continue to fall apart. Sound familiar?

So the question is, "Who are the truly great leaders of Honduras today, and where should we look for them in the future?" Are the current crop of presidential candidates really the best leaders the country has to offer? Perhaps more to the point, though, "What key traits must be present in someone for a person to be the kind of leader that Honduras needs in order to escape its cycles of bad times and less bad times?" One clue: Our traditional conceptions of and qualifications for leadership have not served Honduras well.