Leadership is felt when it is present and absent
For years, I have been fascinated and inspired by leadership: what it is, what it isn’t, what people think it should be or shouldn’t be.
When I was twelve years old, I remember being inspired by a courageous footballer and captain of the Hawthorn Football Club, Peter Crimmins, as he battled cancer and tried to ready himself to lead the team onto the field on Grand Final Day in 1975. Sadly, he was declared unfit and was left out of the team. But his courage and dedication, and the courage of his team who wanted so badly to win the match for him, had a profound impact on me, and the psyche of the football public. His work ethic, and the spirit he showed in battling cancer and wanting to see his beloved team win, embodied leadership. Today, the Hawthorn Football club’s Best & Fairest award is called “The Peter Crimmins Medal” in his honor.
In February 1983, one hundred and eighty bushfires on one day ravaged the states of South Australia and Victoria that resulted in seventy-five deaths. Only days later, I found myself with one of the cleanup teams working in the backyard of a woman in her mid-50’s, trying to restore some sense of order to her world. Although her house was preserved, she lost many of her belongings and her property was devastated. Elaine was exhausted and experienced feelings of loss, but she would not allow this setback to consume her. I remember being impressed by her determination and optimism. Ironically, years later, I would find myself working alongside this remarkable woman in a family mediation center.
There are many more stories, of social, religious and political leaders who have touched my life from a distance, and some who have achieved this even after their deaths. These include: William Wilberforce (AD 1759-1833), Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (AD 1869-1948), Eleanor Roosevelt (AD 1884-1962), St. Mother Teresa (AD 1910-1997), Nelson Mandela (AD 1918-), Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (AD 1929-1968), and Pres. Mikhail Gorbachev (AD 1931-). There have been inventors who have demonstrated great resolve and initiative, like Thomas Edison (AD 1847-1931) and Alexander Graham Bell (AD 1847-1922), and business leaders like Warren Buffet (AD 1930-) and Microsoft’s Bill Gates (AD 1955-) who have established corporate empires only to give billions of dollars away to humanitarian efforts. There have been military leaders such as Alexander the Great (356-323 BC), Julius Caesar (100-44 BC), Genghis Khan (AD 1162-1227), George Washington (AD 1732-1799) and Napoleon Bonaparte (AD 1769-1821).
Leadership is personal. It is powerful. It is felt by everyone: by those who demonstrate it in a large way or seemingly insignificant ways, and by those who are affected negatively or positively by leaders connected to them, or detrimentally by its sheer absence when it is needed.
There are opportunities every day where we can demonstrate leadership – or not. What is the opportunity you have today?