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“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” is the quote most likely to be heard in cubicles, stairwells and lobby vending machines across a spectrum of organizations and a diversity of voices. At a time when a financial baseball bat is being used to loft long, arching drives that descend just south of both foul lines, many are left wondering why bother getting off the bench when the outcome of the at-bat is already known. Many would argue that it is one of the most non-discriminatory financial tidal waves to ever flood the three economic class levels. It is the late Marvin Gaye’s ‘Inner City Blues’ moved east and transformed to ‘Any City Blues’ and it still “Makes me want holler, throw up both my hands!” While it may be a good topic for an afternoon talk show intervention, it only “Escalates the holler and wring both my hands.”

In the center of this storm is a stark reality. Whining, blaming and ignoring won’t solve problems that ‘we’ve never seen before’ and wishing it would go away, won’t make it go away. Decisive action is movement toward the uncertainty with an eye fixed on not being a small victim but searching for those small victories. The way is shaped by the actions of business, government, non-profits, educational institutions and the collected thinking of individuals committed to forging ahead on a path less traveled, less known, but more promising. It requires, what consultant, researcher and doctoral student, Tracy Flaggs refers to as, ‘Courageous Leadership. The courage to lead during unprecedented times is measured by the will and determination of those who do more than just wait to see a silver lining, but have the curiosity and willingness to search for opportunities behind the silver lining. When the door closes on a darkened path, the only way to go is forward.

Every path to opportunity has its share of obstacles and during this “I’ve never seen anything like this before,” moment in history, many of those obstacles sit in cubicles waiting for the next wave to hit as opposed to trying another path. Courageous Leaders recognize that there are many who willingly allow the storm to wash them away, but will, staunchly, stand in opposition to efforts made to move the organization forward. They see the past as an anchor that holds things in place until the storm passes, without realizing that when the storm passes, the landscape has changed. The familiar landscape that was once feeding ground for several traditionally solvent industries, have been transformed and require a different kind of nurturing. The leadership needed is more than just an abstract notion. It is a framework for shaping the mind-set, skill-set and attitude of employees who do more than just ‘ride out the storm.’ It is not the storm that is pushing you back, but the unwillingness to, collectively, row upstream.

When things are calm, the wind is light and the sun shines brightly on the deeds of individuals, courage is an easy topic to discuss and even easier to demonstrate. Comfort is found in the stability and predictability of ‘life in the good lane.’ Heroic acts of charity and good will are common place and spirits run high because ‘we’ve seen things like that before.” Courage unseats heroism when the way is darkened and the path bends. Leadership is about looking through the storm and onto the horizon where the first ray of sunlight brings with it a new path and the promise of unforeseen opportunities. It is an action that goes beyond short-term quarterly measures and immediate return on investment. The activities needed to move individuals and organizations through a turbulent storm require more than just simple statements about survival, they require acts of courage.

© 2013 Lee E. Meadows
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