Leadership … Continued Discussion 8/17/09

In this post I want to visit a quote from Abigail Adams, in a 1780 letter from her to her son John Quincy Adams (as it appeared in the introduction to the 2003 revised edition of Warren Bennis’ On Becoming A Leader).  The quote reads as follows, “It is not in the still calm of life or the repose of a pacific station that great characters are formed.  The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulty.  Great necessities call out great virtues.”

How correct her words!  Character does not simply evolve … it is shaped by the experiences one has, and what greater experience than to be tested in difficult and trying times.  Today’s economy is a fine example … how leaders respond to declining revenues, a declining customer or membership base, and the need to economize uncomfortably will separate true leaders from those who are would-be or pseudo leaders.  These are the life-tests that either build character and shape a leader or strip away the emperor’s clothes for all to see the true essence of the person.  Leaders emerge from these trials stronger than when they entered them.  Leaders make the difficult decisions and inspire their followers forward.

And true leaders do not avoid these difficult times.  They do not look for trouble, but they do not shy away from it either.  Albert Einstein pointed the way in saying that “in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” With an eye toward the bigger picture, leaders usher their charges through the detritus of the moment and keep them focused on the opportunities that certainly also exist.   And just as leaders grow from each such encounter with things gone wrong, so too do they model the way for those whom they lead.

Stuff happens, and it happens a lot.  Leaders learn how to deal with it.  And with each new experience, their arsenal of counter measures grows.  Their toolbox gets more full.  And they handle adversity better than most because of all the “stuff” they have had to deal with through the course of their professional and personal life.  Each encounter indeed makes them stronger.

This becomes evident in one’s career when the occasion is taken to revisit prior experiences and decisions-made.  How often, built on intervening experiences, we realize how differently we might have acted in those earlier encounters had we been armed with these additional experiences.  Truly, “it is not in the still calm of life or the repose of a pacific station that great characters are formed.”

Author Cross-references:

Warren G. Bennis: Also see posts 1/14/09,  2/6/09, 5/1/09, 11/11/09, 2/18/10, 2/24/10

Abigail Adams: None

Albert Einstein: None

Key Word Cross-references:

Character/Integrity: Also see posts 2/3/09, 2/6/09, 3/16/09, 5/1/09, 6/5/09, 11/1/09, 12/5/09

Setting the Example: Also see posts 12/12/08, 1/13/09, 3/16/09, 5/1/09, 5/17/09, 6/5/09, 7/7/09, 2/24/10

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