We are in a very sad state. It seems that each day brings another report about increased drug and alcohol use…suicide attempts…anxiety and depression…and lower life expectancy.
Are you surprised? I’m not…but probably not for the reason you think.
Of course, things are difficult right now, given the high rate of inflation, the horrible war and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, rising crime and a pandemic that just won’t end…
This sad state is because our leaders are telling us that this is all that we can expect—just check out these headlines…
“The Next Pandemic Could Come Soon and Be Deadlier”
—Center for Global Development, August 25, 2021
“Biden Says He ‘Can’t Do Much’ About Rising Gas Prices, Blames Russia”
New York Post, March 8, 2022
“War in Ukraine Brings Dual Crisis to Global Food Supply”
—ABC News, April 13, 2022
“NYC Mayor Says Even He Doesn’t Feel Safe on Subway System”
Associated Press, January 19, 2022
It is no wonder we feel bad. Every headline and every message from every leader is one of resignation rather than overcoming challenges and winning.
This is not leading—it’s helplessness…and it’s making us all hopeless.
What we really need is leadership, and we need it fast.
But our leaders in both the public and private sectors either don’t know how to lead or they are too afraid of being canceled if they step out of line for one segment or another.
I have a friend who works at a global consumer-goods company. He says employees there spend hours each day in meetings, discussing projects that need to be completed—yet no one is setting priorities or removing hurdles that are getting in the way of progress. They just swirl, pretending to do stuff. Why? Because no one will take the lead.
The headlines don’t talk about Washington leaders addressing citizens’ complaints about safety, education and inflation because they’re suffering. Instead, these leaders make decisions based on the polls—it’s all about reelection.
Meanwhile, we have a generation of young people brought up in the land of participation trophies where anyone who excels is made to feel bad for their excellence. No wonder no one wants to take the lead. They were—and are—being taught that they would be punished for standing out.
It is time for a primer on leadership…and what leaders do. If your leader is not doing these things, find another one. If no one is doing it for you, step up and fill the void. Below I talk in business terms, but these suggestions apply to families, teams and friend groups—if there’s a group, there needs to be a leader, even if the leadership is informal.
1. Point the finger toward where we are going. Leaders choose the direction and point the finger…and others follow. In 1961, John F. Kennedy, Jr., declared, “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.” And so it was on July 20, 1969, that Neal Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins took “…one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Where are you going? Where should your team go?
2. Inspire. Mother Theresa…Gandhi…Nelson Mandela…Martin Luther King, Jr…. Jesus Christ…Abraham Lincoln…Moses—all these historical leaders changed the world with visions so powerful that millions were compelled to follow. They didn’t intend to create movements. Their unique perspective and integrity of thought and mission were so pure and so “right” that others couldn’t help but follow their lead.
Today, Volodymyr Zelensky is inspiring a nation and the free world. The Ukrainian “David” is standing up and hopefully will beat the Russian “Goliath.” How can you not be inspired by Zelensky’s statements…
“I do not want my picture in your offices: the President is not an icon, an idol or a portrait. Hang your kids’ photos instead, and look at them each time you are making a decision.”
“We are fighting just for our land and for our freedom…Nobody is going to enter and intervene with our freedom.”
At home, it’s parents’ job to instill values into their children, teaching them to be good citizens of their communities. Don’t cheat. Don’t steal. Don’t lie. Don’t covet. Work hard. Do your best. Be generous. These values are passed along by parents who live them every day and are good role models. Children don’t need their parents to be their best friends…they need parents who are inspirational leaders.
3. Create a plan of action, then go do it. Napoleon Hill, one of the earliest self-help authors, said, “Plan your work and work your plan.” That was one of my father’s favorite lines, instilled in me starting at a very young age.
Yes, you need a goal. Yes, you need to know where you’re going. Yes, you need to inspire the troops. If you don’t have a plan, then you have no idea how to get to your goal. When the US withdrew from Afghanistan last year—a noble goal supported by many—hundreds of Americans were left behind, and 13 US servicemen and at least 60 Afghans died as a result of suicide bombers during the evacuation. The American Center for Law and Justice referred to the Afghanistan withdrawal as, “The Intersection of unrealistic planning, poor execution and deflecting responsibility.”
Once a plan is created, go do it. Leaders act with decisiveness. While it’s nice to be polite, someone needs to make decisions. There is no need to be rude. Simply be strong and powerful in saying, “Let’s roll.”
4. Develop confidence among your team members. A leader can’t make a difference alone. Leaders require the efforts and skills of people behind them who are willing and able to make decisions and act.
Leaders train their deputies to make decisions fearlessly and to lead their own teams. They help them develop the skills to do their jobs and then give them both the responsibility and the authority to lead. Confidence is built through self-reliance. If you’re responsible for results, then you make it happen…with confidence.
We are watching political and business leaders who have lost confidence in their own vision and skills kowtow to the pressures of special-interest groups and today’s cancel culture. As I said about above, if managers can’t make decisions, then the workforce can’t do its job.
At home, if parents don’t allow their children to try and fail, their kids don’t develop self-confidence or resilience. It’s hard to see your child “ride the bench” on a sports team or not get the solo in choir. But that is okay. Help them chart alternate paths, and teach them coping and problem-solving skills.
5. Connect the team. Mark my words…three to five years from now, some Ivy League–educated genius is going to write a book about the importance of in-person work and how the shift to remote work due to the pandemic increased corporate turnover, reduced employee satisfaction and negatively impacted growth and creative thought. Why? The teams are disconnected.
You can’t instill a company’s culture when the employees are at home in their bunny slippers. You can’t create company loyalty or invested coworkers when you don’t really know them. You can’t create relationships with coworkers when you’re at home in your own bunny slippers.
Young people will become increasingly isolated and unhappy. After all, for 12 to 16 years, their social connections were developed in school where they interacted daily with their peers. Historically, young adults find friends and life partners through their work life. I met my husband because he was one of my best friend’s coworkers…and her husband was my coworker—it worked out quite nicely for both of us.
Interactions through a screen and TEAM texts are not relationship-building. Leaders connect with their team but also connect their team members to each other.
6. Believe in success. If you don’t believe it, don’t say it. True leaders believe in their own vision and their team’s ability to achieve it. Were it not for their deep belief in the visions of Henry Ford…Christopher Columbus…Eli Whitney…Thomas Edison…The Wright Brothers…Jeff Bezos…Steve Jobs…and countless others, we would be living in a very different world.
Sadly, at a time when we need leadership more than ever, we seem to have a leadership supply-chain problem—and that means we need more leaders. We can’t assume that someone else will fix or handle things—what if no one else is coming? It starts with caring and believing. If you care and you believe, then you, too, can be a leader. Let’s roll…