On Memorial Day, the traditional start of summer in the U.S., in late May, I thought about leadership and how we Americans honor our fallen military heroes. Throughout history, America’s visionary military leaders often inspired confidence in their cause and its outcome.
Defining non-military leadership is difficult, but here are three of my descriptions. Leaders promote a great idea, motivating others to join them to create something meaningful and significant. Or, they may lead with strength in a crisis, expecting results while alerting those around them of the urgency to act and complete a job. Finally, leaders set an example of character and integrity so the public will believe and trust them.
In scandal-ridden Washington, D.C., leadership is tough to find. Two hit close to home.
The U.S. Attorney General, whose office has quietly been investigating journalists, of all people, has now been charged by President Obama with reviewing both his and his office’s actions. Really? Can we expect an objective assessment?
Also, the Internal Revenue Service, the feared tax agency, faces accusations of political bias. They have admitted targeting conservative and religious groups.
In both cases, the agencies’ top brass claim ignorance and no responsibility. In the meantime, the country hopes for honesty and genuine consequences. As they say in New Jersey and New York, “fugetaboutit.” We must look beyond an unrepentant bureaucratic government to find leaders.
Last month, I attended the East Coast Gaming Conference in Atlantic City. Over 17 years, many people have come and gone. I’ve learned that strong corporate leaders’ own behavior influences their companies’ culture of achievement and responsibility.
Can you imagine Caesars Entertainment CEO Gary Loveman pleading ignorance to his shareholders about why he signed something, or blaming an individual casino manager for problems? Other CEOs like Steve Wynn, MGM Resorts International’s Jim Murren, Boyd Gaming’s Keith Smith and Isle of Capri’s Virginia McDowell, to name a few, understand their authority must push their companies forward. Ultimately, the good and bad rests on their shoulders and they bear the burden of accountability

In Washington, American Gaming Association CEO/President Frank Fahrenkopf’s type of leadership has taken an idea and made it grow. Since 1996, Frank has guided the gaming industry through victories and defeats as it grew into an economic force in 23 states and hundreds of communities. He has used his savvy and expertise to successfully mesh his AGA member companies with other international industry associations and professionals to gain global acceptance.
As Frank retires and we say farewell on June 30, I offer my own appreciation. Thanks, Frank, for believing enough in this industry to work tirelessly to build a solid foundation. It created a commercial environment that employs millions and generates billions in benefits for their communities. Thanks for stubbornly pushing for gaming’s respectability and making it an important enough industry that I would have a job for almost 20 years.
I have interviewed, reported and depended on Frank for countless topics in 17 years. My final profile on Frank is in this issue. It is impossible to measure his part in taking the AGA and gaming from its place in 1996 to 2013.
Finally, like in battle, crisis and tragedy produce leaders who inspire and losers who collapse. Last October, Hurricane Sandy ripped through the Jersey Shore where I live and destroyed properties, businesses and lives.  Despair permeated the coastline and people feared the future.
Seven months later, the future looks brighter. Hundreds of large and small reopening ceremonies prove that New Jersey is again open for business. One prominent ribbon cutting was the May 23 debut of Jimmy Buffett’s new $35 million Margaritaville dining, gaming and entertainment complex at Resorts Atlantic City casino. Governor Chris Christie did the honors, cheered on by hundreds, including me.
Margaritaville’s groundbreaking ceremony was 10 months ago. Considering the devastating financial losses across the Shore, no one anticipated its timely completion. But, Christie insisted it be done by Memorial Day weekend… no excuses. He promised the necessary aid and people got to work.
Christie spent that very week visiting towns and cutting ribbons along the Jersey Shore. He welcomed tens of thousands of residents and vacationers back to the businesses, boardwalks and cleaned-up beaches they love. His vision, expectations and commitment motivated residents to invest their blood, sweat and tears into rebuilding our broken coast. Much remains to do, but everyone is optimistic.
Christie is up for reelection this November. I suspect he has a good chance of winning, don’t you?