People do a lot of foolish things, and we know that because, in retrospect, we can see exactly how dumb we were! Take the hopeful, clueless love of science and propaganda that justified atomic bomb test viewing parties in Las Vegas — a real tourist draw!
What is it about human nature that glues us to the very thing that should make us duck and cover — or run for the hills!? Sheep too close to the blast were losing their wool, soldiers were being poisoned with radiation and told, “just shower and you’ll be fine,” and “downwinders” like this mother and child were having their lives shortened as they watched the show or washed the dishes. The country was taken up in atomic fever — celebrating the power of science to end a war and protect freedom. Freedom indeed. The bones of us born past the time of the first atomic test can be recognized by our radiation signatures, and cancer is commonplace….
Thank you for letting me rant for a moment…. Now on to my regularly scheduled program, leadership…
So how do we take a lesson from history, in the now, and perhaps help ourselves avoid the bad leadership decisions we might make for our followers (and children, and ourselves)? How do we become the leaders we hope we will be in the future, preventing the red faces and sickness that come from 20-20 hindsight?
WE ASK BETTER QUESTIONS, AND TAKE A RISK — MORE OFTEN THAN IS COMFORTABLE.
It may not make a difference immediately — politics often trumps practicality. And the scientists who raised a red flag about the violence, radiation and dangers of atomic warfare were
No one said it isn’t tricky to ask better questions, take risks and look forward to trends that might be invisible. Sometimes it feels we’re fish trying to notice the water around us, while our fellow fish discourage us from looking. But because we’re humans, with minds, emotions, spirits, foresight and hindsight, the patterns are there… and the trick is that we need to look beyond what has come to feel normal in order to predict future crises and solutions. More than marketing, more than short term solutions — it’s about leading with vision and courage.
What is normal now — the status quo that corporations, government and citizens (consciously or unconsciously) want us to believe is normal, will be tomorrow’s joke, shame, or regret.
I think of that classic experiment of the frogs in boiling water. If you put them in cold water, and slowly heat them up to boiling, they will stay in the water when they might have escaped. They will die. But if you throw them into the water when it’s boiling, they will leap out (if they can). Today’s comfortable normal is the boiling water of the future, and we are the frogs.
Good leaders resist the peer pressure to accept normal, and look forward to understand the consequences of our culture’s choices.
It’s not easy. They’re not always successful. But I believe each question, each act of resistance, each rally, each policy change, each debate, each sermon, each curriculum change, each report, each step — they matter. Individually, and more important, as a whole.
Because visionary leaders are never alone. There is always a pattern of perception that simmers below the acceptance of normal, always an energy around change and possibility and questioning, that each leader, in his or her unique way, taps into. Change is happening as a collective — it’s up to visionary leaders to help make that change positive, meaningful, and healthy for all of us.
That’s why some visionary leaders — Gandhi, Mandela, FDR — become the face of transformation and vision. They’ve been able to tap into the questions and issues simmering under our normal lives, issues everyone knows about on some level, some people talk about, and a few people lead with. They weren’t alone — neither are we. They didn’t watch the bombs falling and pretend they were being entertained — we don’t have to, either.
What do you see that others don’t? What questions do you think we need to ask, and answer, and act on? That’s the start of your visionary leadership. Dare to be different and you’ll be more likely to make a difference.