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Former congressman aims for a better America J.C. Watts tells Elon University students the secret to great leadership By Kristin Martin It isn’t often that speakers begin their talks by applauding the audience. But J.C. Watts does, to prove a point. “The cheer of the crowd in leadership can be so seductive, so intoxicating,” he said, clapping vigorously. “You lose pride and you lose humility, and you lose sight of our political system.” J.C. Watts has done it all, from football to ministry, from Congress to journalism. “I’ve been in business and I’ve been in politics,” he said. “I’ve seen America up close and personal from many different levels.” Watts says he has discovered the secret of success in whatever role he takes on. “There is one thing that you have to have as a leader,” he said, “and that’s character. I just believe that character still matters.” Watts defined leadership as “doing what’s right when nobody’s looking.” He said he strives for an America with character. “I don’t just want my grandkids to inherit a normal nation, I want them to inherit an exceptional nation.” He added that said if people aren’t performing, they shouldn’t get the reward. “We should measure and keep score,” he said. “We should hold people accountable.” Recalling his football days, he said, “If we didn’t win, I lost my job.” America isn’t in the place Watts would like to see it. He looks back a few years for an example of the America he wants. “I have to look at the World War II generation when I look at character,” he said. “No matter if we are red, yellow, brown, black or white, Republican or Democrat, we can’t continue to do what we’ve done over the last 35 to 40 years.” He addressed the issue of high taxes. “Nobody believes they are under-taxed. You can’t even afford to die,” he joked. “It’s not taxation that has gotten us where we are. It’s spending. The 28 cents is what the Republicans and Democrats are fighting for. The 72 cents is already spent. It’s the 72 cents that’s killing us.” Watts continued to be direct with his audience. “If you’re a college student in here tonight, I’m gonna tell you the truth,” he said. “You aren’t going to get any Social Security.” But he also had advice. “I encourage you to look more at what is right and wrong,” he said. “Use good ole common sense.” Watts said America is lacking because its leaders have lost their humility. “It starts with the leader listening to the cheering of the crowd. And they forget what is right is not always popular.”


Watts is for going against the grain, even when it’s difficult. “One of the top things we can do as citizens is take off our Republican or Democrat hat, peel the onion and show ourselves worthy, if you will,” he said. “We have to get beyond cheering for our team because they wear the same colors we do.” He said he hasn’t lost hope. “Friends, we’ve got to believe we’re still America,” he said, adding that there are many ways the nation can improve, starting with individuals taking care of themselves. “Let’s encourage people to be healthy, not just encourage health care. We can never deal with health care until we deal with health.” According to Watts, it’s the little things that will put America back on track. Have character. Use common sense. Do what’s right. Spend less money. “These are simple things. And if we do those things,” Watts said, “if we got it 30 percent right, if we got it half right, think about where we would be.”

JC Watts speech 2.22.11  

This is the article that I wrote for Media Writing when former congressman JC Watts spoke at Elon University in February 2011.

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