In every challenge faced, there are leadership lessons to be learned…
To say the recently concluded American election process was emotional would be an understatement. To the dismay of many across the globe, it often assumed the appearance of a mean-spirited reality TV show. Marred with insults, insinuations, and incendiary statements, it did not bear much resemblance to the world’s premier democracy.
Months of acrimony reached a feverish pitch that ended with what many now refer to as an ‘insurrection.’ Highly divided supporters of the outgoing President marched into the Capitol House just over two weeks ago. They plundered even as they posed gleefully in the corridors of power. There was no real joy in the happenings, however. The unruly confrontation between the mob and the police in Washington D.C. on January the 6th left five dead in its wake.
By any measure, overcoming a national disaster like this would require strong will and consistent action; it would require a different kind of leadership. If there were to be any indication that a new leadership style was emerging in the days to come, it would be apparent on Inauguration Day (January the 20th), when the 46th President of the United States of America took his oath of office. As Joseph Biden Jr. placed his hand on his family’s Bible, people across the world joined in the celebrations. They felt a multitude of emotions in their hearts, even as the sun came out on top of Capitol Hill. Maybe, they thought, this new leadership would signal new hope.
So, what were the leadership lessons that warmed our hearts? What emotions did we feel that demonstrate we can once again feel hopeful?
The name says it all. On Inauguration Day, clad in a purple coat, she was sworn in as the first-ever female Vice-President in American history. She also assumed the distinction of being the first African American and first American of Indian, South Asian, and Asian descent to be elected to this high office. She was administered the oath by Sonia Sotomayor, the first-ever Latina Supreme Court Justice. These ‘firsts’ elicit nothing but respect for the process of democracy and the maturity of the American people. They point towards a broadening of hearts and the belief in creating a more equitable society.
Leaders must show the level of respect shown on Inauguration Day was not a one-off celebration, but an indicator that the demonstration of respect is a fundamental human value.
We all felt a sense of reassurance while witnessing the discipline with which all the attendees wore masks to safeguard themselves (and, of course, others) from the deadly coronavirus. The masks stayed on even when they socialized and congratulated each other after the ceremony had closed, showcasing their genuine concern for safety. What also touched our hearts was the regular sanitizing of the speaker’s podium, dutifully performed by an elderly gentleman, each time a new speaker took the stage.
Genuine care for one another is the mantra we need in our world – a world that has seen far too many tragedies over the last year. To prosper, one of our most essential leadership lessons learned is that we must model this deep sense of concern for others.
Twenty thousand people would typically attend a Presidential Inauguration; in 2021, mostly due to the unfortunate events of January 6th, only a thousand or so were permitted to do so. Instead of exuberant people ready to celebrate the swearing-in of a new president, the National Mall played host to over 200,000 American flags and 56 pillars of light to represent all the American states and territories. Fluttering and rising into the skies and accompanied by the Marine band’s sonorous notes, the flags and all they represented filled us with pride.
Every leader, at the beginning of each day, must ask themselves a question.
“Today, will I help create bone-deep pride in our mission and our work?”
No one can instill hope better than the 22-year-old poet and Harvard graduate, Amanda Gorman, who recited a soul-stirring poem she composed on the day of the infamous Capitol invasion. To imagine that she overcame a speech impediment to become America’s first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate is truly mind-blowing – and inspiring. The youngest ever poet to take the stage at a Presidential Inauguration, she showed us the capability, clarity, and character of our younger generation. In doing so, she gave us unbounded hope.
Even on the toughest days and in the most challenging circumstances, leaders must provide a sense of hope.
As expected, star power did not let us down. Lady Gaga, in a characteristically dramatic dress, sang a version of the American national anthem. Jennifer Lopez sang a medley of ‘This Land Is Your Land’ and ‘America The Beautiful’. Country singer Garth Brooks sang a Capella version of ‘Amazing Grace’, even taking off his Stetson during his performance. The one common thread that was binding their individual performances: the passion clearly evident in their flawless singing and brightly lit eyes.
Sometimes, we leaders forget the importance of passion – passion for our work, our mission, and our people.
At the end of the ceremony, Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, stood up. They escorted the outgoing Vice President Mike Pence and his lovely wife, Karen, down the steps of the Capitol building. It was a picture of pure grace, unblemished by any of the acrimony on full display during the election process. As they bid their good-byes, one could see the couples bonding over a hearty laugh. That moment showed the maturity of those that lead the nation last and those that will lead the nation next. In participating in the Inauguration (unlike his boss, President Trump, who chose not to attend), VP Pence let us know that defeat is only one side of the coin. The other side represents growth, something that all Americans can look forward to.
As leaders, work will not always go as planned. We must learn to follow every disappointment with grace and growth.
Leadership Lessons Learned
In a democracy – like a company – there will always be dissent. But there is a fine line between dissension and being stubbornly disagreeable. Two weeks ago, the leaders of the world’s most powerful nation led from the front and by example. After a time when hope seemed hard to find, they stirred positive emotions within all of us.
There is no doubt that this experience will drive many amongst us to keep these positive emotions burning. Burning like a glorious flame that removes all darkness, enabling us to learn important leadership lessons.
And isn’t that is what people should expect from their leaders?