We need rebirth of the American tradition of leadership at every level of government and in private life as well. The United States of America is unique in world history because it has a genius for leaders — many leaders, on many levels.
In 2009 Thomas Friedman discussed the demise of leadership in Are We Home Alone? He included this quote (emphasis added).
“There is nothing more powerful than inspirational leadership that unleashes principled behavior for a great cause,” said Dov Seidman, the C.E.O. of LRN, which helps companies build ethical cultures, and the author of the book “How.” What makes a company or a government “sustainable,” he added, is not when it adds more coercive rules and regulations to control behaviors. “It is when its employees or citizens are propelled by values and principles to do the right things, no matter how difficult the situation,” said Seidman. “Laws tell you what you can do. Values inspire in you what you should do. It’s a leader’s job to inspire in us those values.”
By example leaders inspire. They use their words to encourage and strengthen others. They may know moments of despair, but their minds and hearts are anchored by their values and principles. Their fortitude in the face of all odds inspires others to take the right path and keep to it even when it goes through adversity. We forget as we look back on history that men such as George Washington and Winston Churchill did not know the outcome of their own bleak times.
The summer before Valley Forge Washington wrote to Major General Philip Schuyler:
We should never despair, our Situation before has been unpromising and has changed for the better, so I trust, it will again. If new difficulties arise, we must only put forth New Exertions and proportion our Efforts to the exigency of the times.
Churchill’s first speech as Prime Minister on May 13, 1940 included these famous words:
I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.
He said to General Ismay:
Poor people, poor people. They trust me, and I can give them nothing but disaster for quite a long time.
Churchill carried England by the force of his words. Over a year later on October 29, 1941 he told school boys at Harrow:
The ten months that have passed have seen very terrible catastrophic events in the world – ups and downs, misfortunes – but can anyone sitting here this afternoon, this October afternoon, not feel deeply thankful for what has happened in the time that has passed and for the very great improvement in the position of our country and of our home? Why, when I was here last time we were quite alone, desperately alone, and we had been so for five or six months…
Another lesson I think we may take, just throwing our minds back to our meeting here ten months ago and now, is that appearances are often very deceptive, and as Kipling well says, we must “…meet with Triumph and Disaster. And treat those two impostors just the same.
“You cannot tell from appearances how things will go…surely from this period of ten months this is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.
By their leadership these men inspired others who became “propelled by values and principles to do the right things, no matter how difficult the situation.”
What about us?
First, we should be grateful to God for leaders of the past, and ask Him to raise up leaders in our present.
Second, we must examine the values of those who would be our leaders and discern the smokescreen of rhetoric from the reality of character. Examine their thinking and deeds.
Third, we can look to our own character. What are your principles? From whence do you gain moral clarity and the courage to act with integrity and persevere? Do you have an anchor that holds in the midst of storm? Where do you find the power to continue to do what is right even when you stand alone?
Fourth, consider your own area of influence and leadership. We all influence one another by word and deed.
For who has despised the day of small things?Zechariah 4:10a
Don’t despise the day of small things. Those are the days in which character is first built and tested. We may have only a small circle of influence or we may suddenly find ourselves in an arena that is larger than we ever imagined. Wherever we are, who you are is important.
There is nothing more powerful than inspirational leadership that unleashes principled behavior for a great cause. What makes a . . . government sustainable . . . is when its . . . citizens are propelled by values and principles to do the right things, no matter how difficult the situation. Laws tell you what you can do. Values inspire in you what you should do. It’s a leader’s job to inspire in us those values.
From citizens who have learned to do the right things, no matter how difficult, arise leaders who inspire others to do the right things and to stay the course.
Ronald Reagan, Acceptance of Republican Nomination for President, 1980.