3 Lessons for Turbulent Times from Great Leaders
Turbulent times define a leader which, consequently, makes or breaks the team. One of the best ways to learn is from lessons from past great leaders. Here are three timeless gems that fit today’s challenging environment.
Break the Psychological Barriers in Turbulent Times
First, break the psychological barriers. Franklin Delano Roosevelt became the 32nd President of the US during the Great Depression. This crisis and turbulent time rocked the country. Outgoing President Hoover asked FDR to reassure the worried public. Instead, in his inaugural address in 1933 FDR told the public, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
With candor, and empathy and optimism FDR defined the difficulties but painted a picture of hope and opportunity. Then, he declared the need for change from “outworn tradition” and instituted a cause not about money but about helping others. He rallied the nation, and then implemented the unprecedented New Deal to back up his talk. As a result, the country began to move forward. Insightful, positive, and constructive communication fans the flames of people’s motivation while quelling their fears when faced with dire times.
Communicate a Grand Goal in Turbulent Times
Second, communicate a grand goal. On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1. This intensified the arms race and cold war tensions. The Russian launch crushed the morale of the US effort. The US Space Agency at the time experienced many failures. President Eisenhower invested more money so they could catch up. The push to reorganize the agency led to more rocket failures. This continued until a new President, John F. Kennedy, spoke to Congress and the nation May 25, 1961. He boldly declared, “First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”
Dr. Charles Garfield worked in the space agency at the time. He shared that almost overnight the morale and performance of the organization became supercharged. The positive goal inspired them. Human and creative performances took gigantic leaps forward. Of course, the goal was gloriously realized. Give your team a worthy goal that captures their imaginations.
Lead by Example in Turbulent Times
Finally, lead by example. In Feb. 1990 South Africa’s Victor Verster Prison released Nelson Mandela from prison after he spent 27 years in jail. Four years later the country elected him as their first black President. However, racial tensions mounted as mutual distrust between blacks and whites heighten. Mandela sought an avenue to unite the country in spite of the turbulent times.
The country’s Springboks rugby team was awful, and Mandela noticed the blacks cheered not for their team but the opposing teams. Coincidently, South Africa was host for the World Cup in 1995. So, it was in the tournament. The poem Invictus by William Henley (see below) had inspired Mandela in jail. He shared it with the white captain of the Rugby team. Mandela brilliantly realized the symbol the team represented and openly mentored the team and captain. The team began to change by demonstrating that blacks and whites could play and win together. South Africa, in a stunning upset, won the World Cup. This phenomenon embraced the heart of the nation and it began to heal the country. In summary, leaders that coach their teams positively instill in them an inner drive to improve regardless of the circumstances.
Pulling It All Together
In turbulent times, these examples give us three viable ways to ignite team success. Notice, the eloquence of the communication, the power of a big goal and the grace of serving through leading by example. In conclusion, as John Kenneth Galbraith defined, “All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership.”
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Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeoning’s of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.