A Cup of Leadership CaffeineThe Leader’s To-Do List, Circa Late 2009

  • Continue to do more with less.
  • Respond to on-going adversity and seemingly overwhelming odds with steely determination visible to all.
  • Fire a few more good people. People that I hand picked.  Hope that this is the last of that.
  • Search for and celebrate signs of improvement.
  • Search for opportunities to improve, renew and reinvent.
  • Get everyone focused on improving, renewing and reinventing.
  • Wonder whether this is the new normal?
  • Remind myself not to feel sorry for myself.  This is what I’m here for.

Trust me, there’s nothing about the above list or this post that is meant to sound like whining, complaining or self-pity.

And yet, there is an undeniable dark reality here.  These are tough times to lead.  The times and tasks can sap the energy and spirit out of the strongest of us.

The times choose the leaders.  It doesn’t work the other way.

If you’ve been around the block for a few decades as a leader, this To-Do list doesn’t feel as good as the one you had for most of the 90’s and the middle of this decade.  However, the benefit of your experience is that you know that we’ll find our way through this fog of uncertainty and fear and doubt.  It doesn’t matter that you don’t know the absolute path.

  • You know that recovery and renewal are outcomes of a process of discovery.
  • You know that the faster you get people focused on searching for answers instead of looking for monsters, the faster the process generates results.
  • Younger leaders survive on the optimism of youth.  Veteran leaders survive on wisdom born of time and experience.

The leaders in times of prosperity are rarely the leaders that poured the foundation of prosperity.  They take the credit and that’s OK. Real leaders don’t thrive on credit.

History Provides Powerful Examples to Learn From:

The American revolution very likely should have failed.  The first time.  Perhaps the outcome was inevitable given size and distance, but we in America owe an unending debt to the unflagging spirits of a few that stood strong in the face of overwhelming odds and grossly insufficient resources.  Franklin in my opinion was the designer…the architect of the nation. He provided the quiet leadership that allowed the right things to happen.  But Washington was undeniably the soul and spirit that carried the hopes of the people and a rag tag band of farmers and merchants on his shoulders.

Lincoln.  A lesser person might have capitulated and allowed two countries to form instead of sending tens of thousands to their deaths.  Popular opinion almost always encourages compromise over more pain. Right was so much harder in this case than settling for an easier wrong.  That formula generally holds true.

Normandy was the crowning moment of a generation.  Freedom was secured inch by inch by a relative few that understood that the process required facing near-certain death.

History provides the grand examples of leadership and leaders as larger than life heroes.  It also provides valuable context and instruction.  In spite of their now mythical status, the reality is that none of Washington, Franklin, Lincoln and Roosevelt, Churchill or Eisenhower and his generals knew whether they would succeed, much less how to pull it off.

What they understood was that victory was an outcome of a process that took fear and uncertainty and distilled it into focus on smaller goals and actions to reach those goals. They learned from failures, changed approaches and learned some more, eventually getting it right.

So just when things seem overwhelming…when the numbers are heading in the wrong direction and when your team is looking to you for a sign of hope and for guidance, take solace in knowing that the times have selected you to lead.

It’s time to remember why you are here and get on with the process.