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Leadership In Crises

by David Brock on June 6th, 2020

The past weeks and month have been, interesting. (If ever there was an understatement). In times of crises, we all look for leadership. We seek understanding, caring, answers, support, direction.

As usual, in times of crises, it’s amazing and truly heartening to see how leaders and leadership emerge. So often, it’s from the most unexpected people and places. We see leaders emerging from our neighbors, friends, community, colleagues.

We see leadership from people not in leadership roles or positions of power. But from people who care, who take responsibility, who are driven to action.

It’s been fascinating to watch the protests over the past week. We see unknown people stepping forward, telling looters, “This is not who we are, this is not what we stand for, this must stop.” We see people, working with each other, working with people who hold different views, to learn, change and make progress.

What has been inspiring over the last week or so to see how many people from so many different positions in life, compelled to step forward, act, saying “This is not who we are, we are better than this, we must work together.”

It shouldn’t be surprising, reflect on every crisis, we see the same thing. In the early days fo the Covid crisis, we health care workers, store clerks, people in hundreds of communities stepped forward to offer leadership and help. Or look at other crises, whether natural disasters like Katrina, the Australian fires, flooding/hurricanes in Puerto Rico. Or tragic events like school shootings, 9/11, Tiananmen Square, leaders emerge focused on caring, helping, sensemaking.

That’s what leadership, at it’s core, is really about. It’s caring, helping, and sensemaking. It’s helping others take action, move forward, and solve problems. Whether it is in time of crisis, or in our day to day business, social, community lives.

And what we notice about leadership, is that often, the greatest examples of leadership come from people who aren’t in leadership roles.

It is disappointing, though not surprising, that too often, those who are in leadership roles fail to lead. They are driven by their own self interest. We see that in many of the “leaders” in our companies or other organizations.

Sadly, we would hope our elected leaders and those appointed by them would offer leadership. We would hope they would demonstrate caring, helping, sensemaking. But we fail to see this.

We fail to see this from too many of our elected representatives–Democrats and Republicans, alike. They are more focused on maintaining and building their power. They are more focused on proving their opponents wrong. But too many fail in demonstrating their caring, helping, sensemaking. They fail in putting their personal interests and need to protect their position and power aside, offering real leadership to people who expect them to do so.

We expect leadership from the media, who instead seem to pour gas on the fires. Again, seeking to maximize their own self interests, positions, and ratings.

We, also, see “faux leaders” emerge. People seeing an opportunity in these events to step in, offering comforting words, but failing to truly demonstrate caring, helping, and sensemaking. They, too, are primarily driven by their own self interest and the opportunity for publicity.

There are some sparks of light in some of our elected and appointed leaders. They recognize what we face is about people and human beings. They recognize what we face is not about politics or political parties, but about our values and human beings. But, sadly, there are too few.

Having painted this rather bleak picture of the absence of leadership from those we expect to be leaders; I am full of hope and optimism. I know that every day, regardless of the circumstances, leaders and leadership will emerge. It will come from you, friends, neighbors, colleagues. It will come from the most unexpected places and people.

All of past history and current events show there are many more people who care, who want to be helpful, who want to make sense. There are so many people who feel compelled to fill the vacuum created by our so-called leaders, stepping forward offering true leadership in hundreds of ways.

It is through the collective efforts of these hundreds and thousands of leaders, it is through their hope and resilience, the we care for each other, we help each other, we learn, we make sense, we move forward.

Celebrate the leaders you see, thank them. Don’t wait for leaders to emerge or count on the “official” leaders. Take action, step forward yourself.

We all have the opportunity to be leaders. We have never needed it more than now.

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