Photo by Pozdeyev Vitaly

Leadership Lessons Learned From an Emotional Inauguration Day

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?


Kamala Harris.

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?


Successful Leaders Go “Bump In The Night” 

I am amused when all I hear leaders talk about is their successes. The triumphs they achieved paint a blueprint of what it takes to achieve greatness.

The algorithm for leadership success is almost exclusively based on what worked for them.

True, events that went the right way for someone should be dissected and analyzed. It is important to understand the specific actions taken and behaviors exhibited that yielded a productive outcome.

But the reality is that very few stand-out leaders waltz through their career to command a winner’s platform.

Successful leaders suffer personal setbacks.

My career produced disappointments that foreshadowed future successes.

This is another “bump in the night” for me.

It was one of the most stressful and painful periods in my career; the telecom business was morphing rapidly and we had to choose our way at a breathtaking pace. Change and chaos were the conditions of the day.

I was president of the advanced communications business with a communications company in Canada at the time we merged with our neighboring provincial communications company to become a major national telecom player.

The chief executive officer of the newly merged company (who I had no relationship with), struck a task force to develop a new corporate strategy. I was asked if I had a data communications expert on my old team who could play a role in charting a growth course for the new company emphasizing Internet and data rather than traditional voice services.

I said yes, and assigned one of my direct reports who was an undeniable data expert and was perfect for the task. It was the right call on my part.

The board not only supported the task force’s strategic plan; my direct report was rewarded by being appointed president of the data and Internet organization in the new company.

Ouch! I was suddenly out of the executive leadership team and ended up reporting to a previous peer of mine who now reported to the CEO.

All those around me counseled me to leave the organization because I was overlooked. “To hell with them!” was the advice I received from almost everyone, including my closest friends.

I didn’t take their advice for I knew something about this individual that the CEO and others didn’t. Even though this individual had strong data expertise, he had limited leadership capabilities which meant that sooner or later he could run into problems – a gamble on my part, but I felt worth the chance.

I stayed, was a good lieutenant and waited for the meltdown.

It happened within a year. I was asked to replace this individual and re-assume my position as president and join the executive leadership team.

Lessons learned that made me a survivor leader:

– Always do what’s right for the organization even though it could place you at personal risk;

Shut up and suck it up when you get punched in the gut;

– Take a long-term view when making a decision in a emotionally charged situation;

– Going against popular advice is often the best;

– Keep working hard in the face of adversity and show ’em what you got;

– Be wary of advice from those close to you. Sometimes their judgement is more clouded by emotion than yours is.

Surviving in the leadership jungle usually means taking a hit at some point.

Make a thoughtful reasoned call because a knee-jerk emotional one could rob you of future opportunities.

Photo Credit: ronimm Flickr via Compfight cc

#WorkTrends Recap: Leadership Lessons from Superheroes

During today’s #WorkTrends show, we discussed leadership lessons we can learn from superheroes. #WorkTrends Founder and Host Meghan M. Biro was joined by David Kahn, leadership expert and author of “Cape, Spandex, Briefcase: Leadership Lessons from Superheroes.”

We discussed the superpowers of leaders, briefly touching on the powers of:

  • Accountability
  • Conviction
  • Persuasion
  • Collaboration

and how each plays a role in inspiring and motivating employees, as well as how a focus on developing your own superpowers can be the path to nailing it in the leadership department.

We also spent some time discussing talent management and the following key topics:

  • The ingredients of an effective leader
  • How superheroes can make you a better leader
  • The use of pop culture to enhance talent management initiatives

It was a lively #WorkTrends podcast and Twitter conversation and this is clearly a topic upon which David Kahn is well-versed. Twitter chat participants also had a lot of insights to share on this topic, making for another quick-moving, lively, and extremely interesting #WorkTrends show.

Want to learn more from today’s event? Listen to the recording and check out the highlights below:

The TalentCulture #WorkTrends Show is all new on Wednesday, March 2, 2016, from 1-2 pm ET (10-11 am PT). Join TalentCulture #WorkTrends Show Founder and Host Meghan M. Biro as she talks about both sides of jumping, whether it’s time to leave a job to pursue dreams or if you need to retain top talent with Mike Lewis, author of “When to Jump.”

Join our social communities and stay up-to-date! The TalentCulture conversation continues daily. See what’s happening right now on the #WorkTrends Twitter stream, in our LinkedIn group and in our Google+ community. Engage with us any time on our social networks or stay current with trending World of Work topics on our website or through our weekly email newsletter.

photo credit: Eye Mask via photopin (license)

#WorkTrends Preview: Leadership Lessons from Superheroes

The TalentCulture #WorkTrends Show is all new on Wednesday, February 24, 2016, from 1-2 pm ET (10-11 am PT).

During this #WorkTrends event, we will discuss the superpowers of leaders with author and leadership expert David Kahn, briefly touching on the powers of:

  • Accountability
  • Conviction
  • Persuasion, and
  • Collaboration.

We will also discuss:

  • The ingredients of an effective leader,
  • How superheroes can make you a better leader, and
  • The use of pop culture to enhance talent management initiatives.

David Kahn, Ph.D. is the author of “Cape, Spandex, Briefcase: Leadership Lessons from Superheroes.” He is an experienced researcher and practitioner in leadership and has been speaking and consulting on the principles of company culture, management, organizational behavior and business strategies for almost 20 years. David also writes for where he makes leadership theories and research accessible by adding a twist of pop culture.

#WorkTrends Event: Leadership Lessons from Superheroes

#WorkTrends Logo Design

Tune in to our LIVE online podcast Wednesday, February 24 — 1 pm ET / 10 am PT

Join TalentCulture #WorkTrends Founder and Host Meghan M. Biro as she talks about Leadership Lessons from Superheroes with David Kahn.

#WorkTrends on Twitter — Wednesday, February 24 — 1:30 pm ET / 10:30 am PT

Immediately following the radio show, the team will move to the #WorkTrends Twitter stream to continue the discussion with the entire TalentCulture community. We invite everyone with a Twitter account to participate as we gather for a dynamic live chat, focused on these related questions:

Q1: What can leaders learn from superheroes?  #WorkTrends  (Tweet this question)

Q2: What qualities stand out in great leaders? #WorkTrends (Tweet this question)

Q3: How can pop culture enhance your talent management initiatives? #WorkTrends  (Tweet this question)

Until then, we’ll keep the discussion going on the #WorkTrends Twitter feed, our TalentCulture World of Work Community LinkedIn group, and in our TalentCulture G+ community. Feel free to drop by anytime and share your questions, ideas and opinions. See you there!

Subscribe to our podcast on BlogTalkRadio, Stitcher or iTunes:

BTR stitcher_logoItunes_podcast_icon



Join Our Social Community & Stay Up-to-Date!


Photo Credit: ImageBase