“ Many of them would never forget the day. For them it was a dawning, the first real hint of hope. If there was little they could do individually to turn the situation around, perhaps there was something they could do collectively. Perhaps the seeds of redemption lay not just in perseverance, hard work, and rugged individualism. Perhaps they lay in something more fundamental—-the simple question of everyone pitching in and pulling together.”
This passage comes from author Daniel Brown’s book, “ The Boys in the Boat”, the true quest of a bunch of unlikely kids winning gold at the 1936 Olympics in rowing. In part their accomplishment rested with their ability “to swing”. That is when all oarsmen are rowing in unison and no one is out of synch. The implications for us today are as true, timeless, and real as they were for those boys competing in Germany. Our eventual victory over this virus rests largely with our willingness to share unselfishly, sacrifice willingly, and improve dramatically.
Fast forward from 1936 to 1972. I had just graduated from OSU with a degree in education and a two year commitment to the US Army as a newly commissioned second lieutenant in the Adjutant General Corp. I was standing in my driveway having a final conversation with my Dad before I drove several hundred miles to report for duty. My Dad, who was a WWII veteran and served in Europe, was watching me slump around as I readied things for trip. Standing by my car in what can best be described by me as “my final mope”, my Dad quickly restored my perspective with some variation of these strong lines to me: “ Why are you whining? When I was drafted in WWII I didn’t know for how long I was going, where I was going, and if I’d ever come home again. It was years before I came back. Get out of here and go do your job.”
He passed away just shortly after that but I’ve never forgotten that afternoon admonition he gave to me about service and sacrifice. He clearly put things in perspective. He anchored my sacrifice to America at another time when we were engaged in a world war and uncertainty was the norm then too. Our sacrifice must be equal to other times when Americans were called upon to do their job.
Fast forward to today. Uncertainty reigns but there is a recent glimmer of hope as the curve begins to flatten in some areas. We know that especially in times of crises people tend to experience the world much more emotionally than rationally. Our immediate sacrifice is to stay away from others and wash our hands. Our bigger sacrifice will certainly rest with new habits we will have to employ, steps we take in the future to restore our economy, and our efforts to help less fortunate Americans. In times like these, America needs individual and collective leadership. What does that look like?
Gallup, after a study of past crises, offers: Leaders need to provide a path forward. Followers have four universal needs from leadership: Trust. Compassion. Stability. Hope. The demonstration of these four by leaders reduces follower anxiety and offers emotional security to them. Are you addressing these four through personal and written communication? Do your policies reflect them? Someone once noted to me that you can’t talk yourself out of something you have behaved yourself into. Are you behaving in ways that offer hope, support compassion, provide stability, and promote trust? How you answer to yourself through your behavior is your ultimate leadership test.
Today, leaders remain tested on their ability “to swing” in a quickly changing world, stay anchored with perspective, and emotionally support those we lead.