As originally published by David Sable on Linkedin.
“We’ve never been faced with this before”…“New Territory for our leaders”…and my favorite, “We are learning as we go…”
The topic? Coronavirus. The scourge of our planet as I write this—sowing fear and skepticism and distrust with fake news, misinformation, and frankly, clueless officials and public.
Are we so leaderless…so short of real leadership that we really think this is all new?
In my series on Leaders and Leadership, I have posited on the difference between real Leaders and mere Authoritarians…that is people who wield vast amounts of power and authority with little or no accountability….the worst kind.
Real Leaders—those who wield true Leadership are always in Beta…looking ahead….living in the now and learning from the past…and always with humility and accountability.
Of course, we haven’t been faced with this before except that we have. Many times…even in recent history.
More…we have more data (despite our wasting it on trying to get me to shop for what I don’t want). We have more science (even though we continue to squander it on profit not people). We have more applied technology (don’t get me started)…
And yet, we look like deer in headlights when a pandemic, accurately predicted by some who used data/science/technology, comes roaring in as scheduled—right on time.
Back to Leaders—my real topic. Let’s take a look at some of my favorite leaders, who, when faced with new crisis, unprecedented predicaments, or unanticipated disasters, reacted with calm…with humility…with accountability and rose to great heights along with the people they led. Always all in BETA.
Where else, but the Bible, do we have a never-ending story of calamity, humankind challenged and on the brink of disaster, often with a vengeful God at the center? I’d start with Moses, whose whole life was spent in Beta, who went from prince to slave to savior (I don’t think there are any training courses for that). Now imagine this scenario and see it as a metaphor for leadership today: God, according to the text loses his cool when, after giving the world the Ten Commandments, discovers that the people took it as Ten Tweets, and spent their time constructing and worshipping a Golden Calf, while Moses was on the mountain.
God gets seriously pissed and essentially tells Moses, “I’ve had it” (Exodus 32:10 for the adventurous)…“I’m done with them….finished….I’m going to get rid of them and start fresh with you”…Hmm…we’ve heard that before no?
What an opportunity for Moses—an unprecedented one. Imagine being the new starting point of history. Think about all the authoritarians who pursued that goal, who saw themselves as ordained by a higher order to wipe out what was and start again. In a less dramatic line of thinking, consider the corporate “leaders” who try to erase the past or ignore history in pursuit of their own egotistical grand dreams or goals…
What did Moses do? First, he makes it clear to God why total eradication would be a mistake, and then he lets God know that “if you dump them…you dump me.” That’s true Leadership, in BETA, humble, and accountable. Looking back, looking forward and seeing clearly in the now.
Moses was able to resist the temptation of power. He understood its ephemeral nature and its disconnect from true leadership, even though in our time, the two are so often conflated.
How about another example…not to be too Biblical, but a figure of modern history often associated with Moses: Abe Lincoln. Talk about BETA—this guy comes from rural poverty, becomes a U.S. President, is plunged into Civil War, must command Generals—and not to mention, a huge army—talk about the potential for power to go to your head. And what does Lincoln say?
“Nearly all men can stand adversity but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power”
Consider the corporate leaders of late. Been listening to any congressional testimony lately? Or the kind of statements given by our so-called leaders? All a far cry from the kind of figure who Lincoln embodied.
Not only was he always in BETA, he was always HUMBLE…ACCOUNTABLE.
For some reason this Moses comparison sticks out to me, so how about another U.S. President who was likened to Moses: George Washington.
Talk about BETA! A farmer, militia officer, a great reader…ends up a General of the Continental Army and then becomes the first President of our country, but only after having turned the offer of being king.
Of course, like all men, George messed up a lot. He didn’t always win. At some points in his life, he was on the run. He often he didn’t have a clue—during the war, his soldiers were hungry, cold and didn’t have enough of anything.
He could have blamed anyone in the moments of trouble, but what did George say?
“It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.”
Hard to imagine that being said today, but there you have it…another learning from an always-in-BETA leader.
Jumping around yet again, but sticking with our U.S. Presidents trope, it seems only fair given the current crisis that we consider our longest service president, FDR or Franklin Delano Roosevelt. While, not a Moses figure (although he did clash with Robert Moses), FDR was a patrician, but also physically challenged. Soon after winning the presidency, he inherits the Great Depression and is gifted with a World War…talk about needing to always be in BETA…
FDR wasn’t afraid to experiment; to try new; to risk all. He was confronted by crisis after crisis, and what did he say?
“When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.”
I love this one…as much as I’m about taking leaps of faith and jumping into the swirling torrents, sometimes true Leadership is as much about hanging on and hanging in as it is about throwing it all out.
FDR, despite his patrician ego and upbringing, had the BETA gene: humility and accountability—and let us not forget, it is often way easier to blow it all up than to hang on when you need to.
One last example…and a perfect example to follow FDR: Harry Truman—a man not elected to greatness, but who had it thrust on him. A man who would have been a mere footnote in history had it not been for FDR’s untimely death.
As President, Truman is probably one of the few, maybe the only, who was confronted by something no one else had ever seen. And while he left some controversies in the historic-record, he also left us NATO and the Marshall Plan. This humble Midwestern man said:
“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”
And I imagine that Marshall agrees. Give others the credit but never pass the buck, look that one up…Humility, Accountability, and Beta Leadership.
Bottom line? True leaders, real leaders are always in BETA, and when you are always in BETA the words of Michael Jordan (not a president, but still a great leader in my eyes) resonate loud and clear:
“Earn your leadership everyday”
Only real leaders get that. Power players and authoritarians hang on to power through entitlement…most often self-entitlement. And although they might have first gained access because we let them, to them uncertainty is an opportunity for power…not for leadership.
In the BETA uncertainty model, you earn your leadership rights every day.
Think about the current global virus crisis and see who you think is earning it every day…
Who might say, “I’m in this with you…our families are all at risk together.” Or who would be willing to cede power to people who knew more about the issue because that’s the right thing to do? And who do you think is hanging on the rope knowing that until we know better, just hanging on is the right option? And finally, who doesn’t care about the credit…just the solution?
Who you think is earning their leadership every day…is anyone?
What do you think?