Leadership Lessons from Breaking News?

This is not a political article.

But, leadership development and corporate culture will be impacted by the events that our current and future employees witness in these stressful times.

Over almost 50 years of working in the learning and leadership development field, I can recall hundreds of times that we reached into the history books of national/political events for a key story or quote.

I took a group of rising leaders to the fields of Gettysburg and we talked deeply about courage, conflict, and lessons from that battle.

I brought my friend Kathleen Kennedy, the daughter of RFK and niece of JFK, to my learning conference and we explored what “Profiles of Courage” mean in the corporate workplace.

We interviewed keynoters that included First Ladies Laura Bush and Michelle Obama about lessons they took away from their political lives that were powerful elements for leaders in corporations.

My interaction with General Colin Powell in front of 2,000 learning colleagues focused on tough lessons from politics and military leadership and how those impacted his brand as a leader.

We can think of so many ways that rising leaders look at and either emulate or reject the styles, values, and approaches of national and global political moments.

As this article is being shared in the digital CLO publication, I can be very “right now” in what I write. As learning leaders, we are experiencing – right alongside our current and future employees – the intensity of these times:

• Pandemic Leadership: How did our Presidents of the current and previous administration handle the challenges and pressures of the Coronavirus Pandemic? What were their leadership approaches and how did they deal with transparency, data, science, and empathy?
• Racial Injustice: How did our political leaders and the corporate leaders around the United States choose to respond to the focus on Racial Injustice in recent times? What were the range of responses from leaders – on both personal and organizational levels?
• Election of 2020, Rioters at Congress, and Impeachment: What do we take away about leaders’ approaches to conflict, to due process, to accepting loss, and to accountability?

As I said at the start, this is not a political article. Readers will have a range of personal reactions to these events and a spectrum of take-aways about Leadership Lessons.

As Leadership Development designers, we need to accept that one cannot gather a group of employees in a leadership program at work without touching on these key words:

• Empathy
• Transparency
• Collaboration
• Honesty
• Ambiguity
• Storytelling
• Accountability
• Listening
• Diversity
• Leadership Culture

In the leadership programs that I am running now (virtually), these words come from the mouths, stories, and souls of the participants.

Empathy, the first word, is the most powerful one to use as leadership developer, to address and leverage the lessons of today and yesterday: empathy for the differences among people, and empathy for the impacts of those events on current and emerging leaders.

Our workforces are at a moment of being Exhausted, Energized, and Challenged by political events in the United States and around the globe. A group presenting at a virtual conference was so excited to promote social media as a learning tool, until they were confronted by many participants who are upset with the role of Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms disseminating what they feel is false information. The social media leadership conversation had to immediately adapt and add context from breaking news.

We don’t need to have sessions called “Lessons from the Pandemic” or “Lessons from Impeachment”.

But we do need to honor how the current events in our lives will impact how we and our rising leaders will lead. Over a year of pandemic isolation, the deep divisions between neighbors and families, the pain of seeing a man die with a knee on his neck or a Capitol Policeman being crushed by the crowd: these events are real and will help shape current and future leaders.

Everything is changing. Support and encourage your leaders of tomorrow to clarify, explore, and stretch their own “Profiles in Courage”.

Yours in learning,

Elliott Masie
Chair, The Learning COLLABORATIVE at The MASIE Center


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