The Words of Leaders

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.”

Notice the emphasis on inspiring others to do the right thing even when it’s tough. This is in stark contrast to a demagogue who preys on fear and disillusionment to stir up anger and resentment. He doesn’t want people to do the right thing, he wants them to do his thing.

Leaders 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 words work because they’re matched by their character. 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.” Examine those who would be our leaders and sort the smokescreen of rhetoric from the reality of character. Examine their thinking and deeds.

“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.

Don’t fall for a demagogue. Look for a leader.
__________
Ronald Reagan, Acceptance of Republican Nomination for President, 1980.

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