05 Apr Out of the Rubble GIANTS Will Emerge
I had a fascinating conversation last week – with an old friend and a trusted colleague that I first met well over 20 years ago.
It’s funny – my guess is that I have connected with more folks from my past in the last several weeks than I have at any other time. I’m ashamed to say that it took a pandemic for me to do that.
All of us are dealing with a new reality – and likely more discretionary time than normal. Though I work with multiple companies all of my conversations are suddenly remote – and getting off the road has been quite a mixed blessing.
One thing’s certain – I appreciate people a lot more than before.
Friends, business acquaintances, clients, and a great many more that I know but never took the time to acknowledge or to thank as well as I could have.
This yearning for social contact in the midst of a pandemic that pushes us to separate is intriguing to me – if for no other reason than it teaches me again a lesson I have had to learn and relearn scores of times over the years.
In times of crisis we long for human contact – even if it can only be delivered on a computer screen from a thousand miles away.
My conversation with the old friend made that even clearer. Her company is in crisis – there are rumors of lay-offs – conflicting reports of organizational response that vary depending on division – and a lack of voice from the powers that be.
Almost a century ago our nation faced a crisis of similar proportions – economic calamity and mass panic. The president of that era – uncertain of his ability to deal with The Great Depression was eventually replaced by a newcomer who seemed clear on one point – no action at all was tantamount to surrender.
The Great Depression was already 3 years old when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected – and his experience as NY governor, where that state had taken extraordinary steps while the federal government faltered, made him uniquely prepared to do something his predecessor could not do.
America’s slow painstaking recovery – one that was not completed until we had successfully participated in a world war – has been and will be discussed by a great many in the years since.
What might be overlooked in the examination of policy and procedure; management and processes; laws and government oversight – is an element of leadership that I believe did more to right a nation wobbling and on the ropes than anything else.
Roosevelt’s decision on how to connect with the people.
In the first days of March 1933 our nation’s financial systems were on the brink of ruin – people were marching on the banks, demanding their money – panic literally was in the air as a National Bank Holiday was put in place as a stopgap to stem the tide.
Laws were changed. New policies were put in place. Government concessions enacted.
None of it would have mattered had Roosevelt not taken a truly bold step.
On March 12, 1933 – only a few weeks into his presidency FDR enrolled an army in the cause.
The American people.
In what would someday be called his first “fireside chat” – FDR gave a radio address to the nation titled The Banking Crisis.
Thirteen minutes that many historians say turned the tide.
As frightened Americans gathered around their radio Roosevelt carefully explained what had happened to the banks, why it had happened, what our government was doing to deal with it, and finally how every American could join him in forever resolving the situation.
The last words of that historic address – “Together we cannot fail.”
At that moment millions of “victims” made a decision.
Today’s leaders would do well to consider the lessons of truly transformative leaders like FDR, Lincoln, Churchill, Washington, and others.
The greatest of armies are built on the strength of volunteers, not conscription.
The most resilient embrace the Power of Identity and Purpose, not mandate and policy.
Politics, partisanship, egotism, and even narcissism may reign during moments of normalcy. But when we are at war – they become deadly.
The other extreme, the invisible leaders who pontificate but never touch their followers (even remotely) – in times of crisis they do more than vanish.
Over the course of the 4,422 days he served as president FDR delivered only 30 fireside chats – his last was in 1944 as we fought as a nation to win the Second World War.
Some might say it was the power of his words that have made them the stuff of legend – that allow us to look at this wartime president as something more than the norm.
I’ve come to believe that the very best leaders do something all the pretenders will never understand.
They help us to think differently about ourselves.