“The first responsibility of leadership is the creation of meaning.”—Warren Bennis.
Word of the week is Crossroads (part 2)
As in Charlottesville
As in the junctions in life where we must choose hate or love, war or peace, yes or no.
As in if ever there was a week when we have to address the moral crossroads of leadership that I talked about in last week’s Sum, this is it.
I was walking the Highline yesterday with a friend who has two small children. The first topic after “how are you?” was not surprisingly “how do you explain white supremacists and the violence that killed Heather Heyer to your kids?” Sheryl Sandberg wrote a moving post (on Facebook, of course) about the challenge of sharing a book about the Holocaust with her 10-year old daughter and the importance of having those difficult conversations with children as a way of teaching them to be vigilant in fighting bigotry and hatred like that displayed in Charlottesville. She said, “The brave Heather Heyer’s mother Susan Bro said she wanted her daughter’s death to be ‘a rallying cry for justice and equality and fairness and compassion.’ Let us honor her by teaching all of our children how to honor and respect those values.”
What do we teach our children? (Here are some resources.) How is it that some of them grow up to be angry, torch-wielding, car-slamming, hate-filled adults? Of all the leadership challenges that any of us faces, that is without a doubt one of the most important one to get right, or at least to try to get it right. What tips do you have to share?
This leads me to ask more questions this week about those moral crossroads rather than pontificating about answers like I usually do. For example:
Where do you personally draw the line between freedom of speech which we all cherish and hate speech that incites to violence and results in a car driven into a crowd of people whose speech the alleged driver apparently didn’t like?
Why does it so often take a tragedy, creating a martyr, as with Heather Heyer or Martin Luther King or Malala to get people’s attention and mobilize them to join a cause for good?
Leaders have a choice: they have the power and platform to call people to their higher selves or to their basest instincts. The skills used in either case are much the same. How those skills are used makes all the difference. What can we all do (because—excuse my one pontification—I believe we are all leaders from wherever we sit) to be a positive influence on other people’s behavior?
- When have you come to a moral crossroads?
- What did you do and why?
- What was the outcome?
- How did you feel about it afterwards?
- What lessons did you learn?
- What great decisions in history were examples of moral crossroads, choices made that changed the world in one way or another?
John F. Kennedy wrote a book I love called Profiles in Courage, profiling eight senators he admired: John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, Thomas Hart Benton, Sam Houston, Edmund G. Ross, Lucius Lamar, George Norris, and Robert A. Taft. Of course, those were all white men, a nice contrast to the angry mob we saw this week, but also lacking in the many courageous women and people of color who I hope would be included in such a book if it were written today.
Who would you put in your book?
What steps do you want to see each of us take to keep America on the path of inclusion, equality, justice, and respect?
Welcome to The Sum, where I share my take on the meaning of sum of the week’s parts. I want your voice too. Leave comments here or @GloriaFeldt