Today, I am amazed at the timing of what I am reading in Jim Stockdale’s book, “Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot”, and to what we are experiencing in current times. One of the questions I’ve been asking myself throughout the election season is “what kind of leader do I want to support?” I did not ask what policies do I agree with or where do I or they stand on the spectrum of “X” social issue. I am a human being – a citizen – given the right and the opportunity to vote for another human being. Yes, they will lead and influence my community, my state, my country on policy and laws. Yes, policy and laws matter as does their stance on social issues.
Remember the adage we teach our children, “it’s not about whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” This definitely applies on the playing field of life – and in politics. For some, the final outcome – winning or losing – is all that matters.
To me, character matters more.
One’s character is developed and tested in times of crisis. As Stockdale puts it, “these are the traits we are looking for in those natural leaders, who lead in times of peril and who became the leader through trial by fire.” I share what Stockdale believes the qualities of a crisis leader are:
- Must be a a Moralist – In order to lead under duress, one must be a moralist – a thinker. He must have the wisdom, the courage, the audacity to make clear what good is. This requires a clear perception of right and wrong and the integrity to stand behind one’s assessment. A disciplined life will encourage commitment to a personal code of conduct.
- Must a Writer of Law – When leaders must be jurists, their decisions are based on their ideas of fairness. When in the hot seat, they’ll need the courage to withstand the inclination to duck a problem. Their laws must never be unjust.
- Must be a Teacher – A good leader is able to give those around them a sense of perspective and to set the moral, social, and particularly the motivational climate among their followers. A leader must aspire to strength, compassion, and conviction several orders greater than required by society in general.
- Must be a Steward – A leader must remember that they are responsible for those in their charge. They must tend the flock, not only cracking the whip but “washing their feet” when they are in need of help. Leadership takes compassion. It requires knowledge and character and heart to boost others up and show them the way.
- Must be a Philosopher – A good leader has a philosophical outlook. They should be able to understand and be able to compassionately explain, when necessary, that there is no evidence that the way of the world assures the punishment of evil or reward of virtue.
“Humans seem to have an inborn need to believe that virtue will be rewarded and evil punished. Often, when they come face to face with the fact that this is not always so, they are crushed. The only way I know to handle failure is to gain historical perspective, to think about people who have successfully lived with failure.”
This quote had me thinking deeply about what this means to me, and is my challenge to you – look to your leaders, not just your political leaders, but leaders in your community, your church, at work, and especially within yourself. You are a leader! Observe. Reflect. How do they handle failure? How do you? Are they traits or qualities you would emulate or want your children to learn? Or maybe they are the type of leader you learn how NOT to be. No one is perfect and we all react to crises, adversity, and failure in various ways. Take this week to observe and reflect from people who successfully lived with failure. Learn not just to handle failure better but how to build and develop your own character as a crisis leader.
(p.s. I recommend starting with reading Stockdale’s book for more context and deeper discussion)