I just finished reading The Imperial Cruise that outlines the events and history around a critical time in our nation. Written by James Bradley who also wrote Flags of our Fathers, the book examines the role President Teddy Roosevelt had on shaping the events leading up to World War II in the Pacific. It paints a troubling picture of America during its rise to world power, but what is most revealing is the singular sense of “knowing” that drove the actions of President Roosevelt.
His singular vision for what was the right action, and only possible outcome, was based on knowing what he believed was true. Truth believed to the exclusion of seeking any advice or even sharing his plans. The result was the death of millions beginning with the Spanish/American war, through the conquest of the Philippines, and ultimately World War II. Like other leaders before and since, he acted with great certainty, without consideration there could be outcomes beyond his vision, or that the truth as known was not accurate or complete. What it did not allow him and others to see was that the world was not truly, as they saw it.
This caused me to pause and think. What a powerful and dangerous thing it is when decisions are based on a belief that you know the truth and that your actions are right. It is not that leaders should make decisions and take action without courage and commitment. Without that, the likelihood of success is limited. What it does mean, is action taken should always include a healthy concern for what “may not, or cannot be known”.
This is the critical balance point for leaders. On one side is knowing what needs done and the action it requires. On the other side are the doubts for what is not known, and concern for what might or might not happen. Too much weight on one side results in action heedless of the risk or cost. Too much to the other side and we are frozen – unable to act. The balance is found when you believe you have made the best decision based on what you know, and that following that decision you learn what you did not know, and the impact on your actions.
We each have been guilty of being out of balance, and we each have dealt with this type of leadership. The question is what are we going to do about it? It is up to each of us to develop our leadership skills, to have the courage to address the action or inaction of others and ourselves. Leadership is a unique combination of certainty to take action and of doubt that keeps us inquisitive and willing to learn. Leadership takes confidence and self-awareness, and it takes effort to develop. It is something we are each capable of and desperately need in our society.
Sertoma is proud to be working with the Tom Hill Institute to provide our members the tools and support to develop their confidence and self-awareness, to become better leaders. For those that have taken on the challenge, thank you. For those who would like to know more about how Sertoma helps develop leaders – just ask.