Courageous Leadership – The Stakes are High

I will never forget the world-changing morning of September 11, 2001 when Manhattan – New York became a war zone. The attackers took no prisoners, held no hostages. Death was the only option they offered. Words and images do little to capture the enormity of the devastation. All I could utter as I watched the tragic event unfold was – ‘this is not possible’ and I said this over and over again.

At the time my mental picture was enormous – and tragic enough, but the reality was a hundred times worse. The sheer enormity of what was happening right before my eyes – took my breath away. I said ‘this is not possible’ when I saw the commitment of the rescue workers, many of whom were still digging after ten days, with bloodied hands and blistered feet, because their fire -fighting buddies were buried under piles of twisted steel .How can I describe what it was like to be one of them, to look into their eyes and see exhaustion coupled with unyielding determination? What I did know was that if I was still alive and under that pile of destruction I would want someone digging for me.

Several blocks away from Ground Zero, another feat of human endeavor was unfolding. Family and friends were posting pictures of loved ones on a crudely constructed bulletin board that ran along the sidewalks. As I looked at the hundreds of photographs crammed from top to bottom, side to side, again I kept on saying, ‘this is not possible’. There is no way that men, women and children should have to live with this kind of grief and loss. Back and forth, those left behind walked twenty – four hours every day, wandering like zombies along the streets of Manhattan – always hoping that someone could tell them something about their father or mother, their son or daughter. They could not eat or sleep, they could not go home without some information, some news, and some degree of closure.

As I reflected on all of this, I screamed with frustration in an attempt to block out the truth of it all. That all this suffering, this holocaust of human tragedy, was not caused by a natural calamity or even some freak accident, but by the deliberate schemes and actions of fellow human beings. No earthquake, or flood, or storm did this. The death and destruction was a direct result of the careful plans of men and women caught up in radical beliefs and so filled with evil intent that as they watched the television coverage that day they cheered each other and jumped for joy!

‘This is not possible’! I cried out again and again. There is no way that evil can possibly run this deep – but it did.

But strangely as the ashes smoldered and the grief was overwhelming, even then a profound hope rose in the hearts of people. The contributions of the many that performed loving and charitable acts in the midst of the misery of Ground Zero. The Red Cross who handed out work gloves and breathing masks, socks and clean boots. Numerous  restaurants that set up mobile grills on the sidewalk offering free food to rescue workers. Humanitarian groups and big business who set up trust funds for the families of the victims. Money poured in.

But work of a deeper kind was happening behind the scenes – ordinary people, like you and me, who sat in restaurants, in coffee shops, office blocks and temporary shelters – addressing with courage  and sensitivity the deep concerns of others. Meeting one-on – one and in small groups, they cried with people, they prayed, they listened, they embraced, they comforted. This went on for twenty -four hours a day for days on end. This was the untold media story, the clip that did not make it to the news. So, while many fine organisations met the external needs of the people, individuals were there to do what only they are uniquely equipped to do; offer healing and hope to deeply wounded souls.

Nothing comes close ……..when a spirit of collective leadership prevails – as I witnessed that day!

To achieve a specific purpose through others expands leadership beyond that of title, position or the intentions of a solo-performance and translates it into the ability as leader to unleash a purpose, provide hope and ignite the potential in others to fully align their best efforts.

Imagine for a moment if such a contribution can be magnified by one or even ten percent, this in turn magnifies the next person’s contribution by an even higher percentage – its multiple effect is immense. Is this not what we all witnessed on that tragic day and the days that followed 9/11?

The stakes are high, as they were that eventful day – for at the core of leadership lies firstly the ability to lead self then to lead others. To flourish or fail- what makes the difference, what is the one vital key that releases the vitality for leadership to thrive? Here it is: for leadership to flourish requires individuals, gifted with their unique human attributes , to possess and deploy their brand of leadership when needed. The call is always the same – for high -impact leaders who humbly provide the vision, the strategy and the inspiration to enable bands of men and women to dramatically influence events and circumstances – always operating in the big picture and finding their place of service within that space.

It is no surprise that despite the prevailing challenges, behind the scenes there are courageous servant – orientated leaders who leverage their talents in order to maximize their impact. But, the stakes are high  and too few take up the challenge – what will it take for men and women, young and old who have been entrusted with the gift of leadership to take it seriously, develop fully  and deploy themselves courageously?