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Kellogg column: Future of America rides on habits of our leaders

James Kellogg

The United States needs new leaders who can move us from dependence to interdependence. Our society has delegated leadership and responsibility to government and settled for stagnant complacency. Last month, Right Angles explained how this irresponsible behavior is costing our liberty, prosperity and values. Making America great again requires people with the habits and purpose to change our culture from within.

Albert Einstein said, "The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them." We must abandon the notion that our problems, and the solutions, lie outside of ourselves. True leadership always begins from the inside and moves outward. The interrelationship of families, churches and schools is critical to develop "inside-out" thinking citizens rooted in "character" instead of "personality."

The late Stephen R. Covey described the "personality ethic" as a deceptive "wealth without work scheme." The empty promises of the personality ethic are embodied in the big-government welfare state. On the other hand, the "character ethic" recognizes fundamental principles that are self-evident guidelines for human conduct. The founders understood these inarguable truths. That's why the Declaration of Independence states, "We hold these truths to be self-evident…"

"The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" by Covey describes an accurate and necessary level of thinking for human interaction. Inside-out thinking begins with self-examination and self-understanding. Meeting self-expectations must precede setting expectations for others. No one can improve interpersonal relationships until he or she engages in self-improvement. An inside-out approach is the only path to responsible independence and effective interdependence.

Our societal goal in the United States should be to instill leadership habits in everyone. Habits incorporate desire, knowledge and skill. Habits define character. The seven habits defined by Covey are the elements to develop personal effectiveness and subsequently interpersonal success. They move an individual from dependent behavior to independence and ultimately interdependence. Covey describes it as a "maturity continuum."

The first three habits build character and move a person from dependence to independence. A person must first become proactive. You are in charge of your life, so take responsibility for change. Second, develop principle-centered goals and create a plan to attain them. Uncover your potential and decide how you are going to utilize your gifts and talents. The third habit is prioritizing to carry out a plan of action. Effective self-management leads to the actions required for personal victories.

The Constitution of the United States aims to preserve individual liberty because it catalyzes and unleashes the greatest powers within human beings. Too many Americans are reactive, failing to plan or act. We have become a society that serves centralized government, while burdened by taxes, regulations and debt. The American spirit festers because government dependency suppresses growth of the character-building habits in citizens. Failure to exercise the responsibility of freedom can only lead to cultural decay and death.

The fourth habit identified by Covey is adoption of a win/win philosophy. We should encourage achievers because their honest success is a benefit, not a detriment to other people. A fifth critical habit is striving to understand before speaking your mind. We must suppress emotional reactions to circumstances and use effective communication to diagnose and solve problems. The sixth habit is to synergize and recognize that "two heads are better than one." Synergizing fosters communication, team building and creativity to achieve public victories. It moves us from independence to interdependence.

Without proactivity, goal-setting and purposeful action on a personal level, positive societal change is impossible. Lasting solutions to problems come from within, never from the outside (i.e., government). Media pundits express disdain at the political division in the United States. But politics reflects our society. Americans have neglected the work of character-building required for communication, cooperation and creative thinking.

Covey noted, "Humans are endowed with self-awareness, conscience, independent will and imagination. These give us the ultimate freedom … the power to choose, to respond, to change."

American greatness requires federalism, freedom and fiscal responsibility. The seventh habit of renewal utilizes liberty to empower meaningful growth and change in our people. If we embrace freedom, choice and responsibility, America will shine brighter than ever.

James D. Kellogg is an engineering consultant and the author of "Radical Action: A Colt Kelley Thriller." Look for the novel on amazon.com and visit JamesDKellogg.com or email james@jamesdkellogg.com.