In a year of scathing rhetoric and bad behavior from all parts of society, it is easy to get lost in all the noise and miss the fact that there are great examples of leadership across the country. I’ve contended that to be a leader that leaves a positive legacy, you must lead with your values—and that takes courage, discipline, and durability. Below, I offer a few examples of each. What would you add? Let me know here in the comments or on Twitter @jeffthompsonmd.
Courage: The number of women, especially women of color, running for political office this year was astounding. In a male—mostly white male—dominated political environment, it truly takes a great deal of courage to face down the criticism, harsh rhetoric, and the anonymous social media attacks. Concomitantly, those people who went door to door trying to engage in civil discourse about important topics and get legal voters to cast legal votes showed a great deal of courage despite predictable animosity from many sides. Finally, related to this and future elections, in the U.S. alone 450 mayors and 17 governors have shown the courage to agree to set political parties aside for the sake of the climate and the health of their citizens. They felt it was urgently important to join with the millions around the world who are trying to improve the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the soil upon which our food is grown.
Courage is not enough. We also need the discipline to stay with those values despite the obstacles that continually present themselves. Think of the healthcare workers and leaders who face the constant economic churn and chaos from potential changes to payment models, closings of hospitals, and layoffs. Yet so many rise to focus on the wellbeing of the patient and the wellbeing of their community. They improve both the quality of care and the health of patients both inside and outside hospitals and clinics. This idea is applicable to so many other industries; there is not an industry or sector that is immune to understanding how discipline in decision-making is integral to applying values-based reasoning to long-term goals.
There are many examples of discipline. Those CEOs, senior leaders, and boards who, in the face of economic well-being and their companies doing well, are thinking long-term, not short-term, so that they are prepared for the next economic downturn. Instead of having knee-jerk layoffs of staff, they will have built their organizations to improve the workplace, the quality of their product, service delivery, and external partnerships. When the next inevitable downturn occurs, it will not be the frontline workers or the community that feel the brunt of the pain.
The third part of living our values has to do with durability. Think now of the durability of public service workers like firefighters, first responders, schoolteachers, or the police. They have had to manage disaster after disaster—not just the recent terrible fires in California, but also the “long ago” disasters of the hurricanes where cleanup continues. Those communities still must be put back together, still must teach the children, still must build safe healthy places for all to live and work.
Another group that has had to display durability under increasing pressure is the press. There have been very few times in history when our organizations that gather and disseminate information have been under such intense and relentless attack. They, like all of us, may not always get everything exactly right or prioritized in the way history will eventually land on an issue. However, they are an absolutely vital part of democracy, and to stand under withering assault has taken a great deal of durability.
The American public could be totally dismayed and disheartened by the many recent tragic events. They could have disengaged because the political discourse from both sides often seems to focus on the wellbeing of those in power rather than the wellbeing of the whole. But, instead of cynically withdrawing, we rose up and chose to vote in record numbers. To have our voices counted regardless of what party we support is of great benefit to our democracy. To have a very diverse cross-section of our voting public come out and have their voices heard despite a very difficult year for many reasons was a model of courage, discipline, and durability. I continue to be proud of us as a nation and as an example of leadership.
I would guess you could think of many other examples of courageous citizens and leaders living their values to serve the greater good. We have many important challenges ahead, but equally many great examples to help us find our way.
Wishing you strength of courage, discipline, and durability as you find the will and determination to pursue the things that matter in your life.