THE FOUNDATION OF LEADERSHIP
“We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent.”
These are the words of the late Senator John McCain. A man who witnessed the horrors of war but also understood that the wounds of war could only be healed by strong leadership – leadership based on ideals in the best interest of the people.
John was not the only McCain to witness the horrors of war. May 8, 2020 marked 75 years of the end of the war in Europe. A war that was brutal, horrific, and left a lasting scar on our planet. A war that John McCain’s grandfather witnessed as an Admiral in the U.S. Navy. A war that taught us many things – that pure evil does exist in this world as well as goodness, fortitude, sacrifice, and the thirst for freedom from tyranny. It also gave the world tested leadership that was critical in bringing the world back from the precipice of being lost economically, socially, and morally.
There is no better example than President Dwight D. Eisenhower – a man who served as Supreme Allied Commander and led the world to victory before becoming President.
“[T]o take your own part but never to be arrogant; to be polite and courteous but never servile; to value true friends above material things, and to be honest and loyal to all those people and those teachings that command your respect.”
President Eisenhower wrote these words to his grandson David in 1962. These core principles are the foundation of leadership. They were the basis of how he lived his life, how he waged war, and most important of all, how he taught others like his grandson to lead.
Today, desperately, just as the world required at the end of World War II, we need that same type of leadership. But this time not from the horrors of war, but from the devastating consequences of COVID-19. The world as we know it has changed and in almost every country the economic and social implications of the virus are yet to be even remotely understood. But we know it will be difficult.
Many say, and I agree, that the worst is still ahead of us. And without leaders like Eisenhower and McCain we will once again find ourselves on the same precipice as we did 75 years ago. A precipice that we will likely cross without strong leadership leaving the world devoid of hope, freedom, economic stability, morals, values, and human decency.
In many places the Pandemic’s impact will only complicate and exacerbate current problems. The United Nations predicts starvation of “biblical” proportions. Places like Nigeria that were already suffering from devastating unemployment, lack of food, religious conflict, and rampant terrorism, will no doubt be closer to civil war and rebellion because of the economic consequences caused by the virus. That is one of the reasons the country needs leaders like former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and former Senator Ben Murray-Bruce who championed critical reforms while in office that helped Nigeria prosper.
Consider another example, Guyana, where President David Granger has been accused by the international community of engaging in rampant election fraud to retain power. Granger has been using the fear of COVID-19 as justification for delaying the challenges to the election result. I am optimistic that the alleged illegal actions of the President will be rectified because of the leadership of Guyana’s former Presidents Donald Ramotar and Bharrat Jagdeo – two men who fought relentlessly for democracy and of the rule of law while in office. Guyana needs this leadership to help restore hope in government and to weather the current crisis.
Thankfully, we have seen this type of leadership around the world, for example in Ukraine where former Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman increased prosperity in the country despite an ongoing war with Russia, and in Taiwan where former Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Kau has fought for decades for independence for the Island nation from the tyranny of neighboring China.
Like McCain and Eisenhower, Groysman and Kau are no longer in positions of authority to help lead the response to the Pandemic. Ukraine’s government has clearly failed and is moving the country into an economic abyss but fortunately, Taiwan’s current President Tsai Ing-wen, has had success with the challenges of COVID-19. Others, like current U.S. Senators Mitt Romney of Utah and Senator Doug Jones from my home state of Alabama are making a difference because as leaders they put the people above partisanship. They stress what we all have in common while too many others seek to divide us. Then there is Governor Wanda Garced of Puerto Rico who is trying to bring prosperity to the people after the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, numerous deadly earthquakes, and COVID-19.
Why do I single out these past and present leaders? As a former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said in 1964 in the Jacobellis v. Ohio case when trying to define what pornography is “I shall not today attempt further to define ….. [b]ut I know it when I see it.” Many of the individuals I have mentioned, I have had the honor to work with and I have seen firsthand the leadership qualities they possess.
Leadership means different things to different people. There is no better example than my mom. I was surprised on many occasions at who she thought was a good leader. But she knew leadership when she saw it and it reminds me that just because we all view leadership differently does not mean that a person is wrong just because we may not agree with whom they think are good leaders. But what I do know, is that regardless of who we individually see as a good leader, now more than ever we need a leader who can rally the people into unity and not divide them during the even darker days that are ahead of us.
As we look back on the last 75 years since victory in Europe, the world not only survived, but prospered. What made this possible was strong leadership by individuals like President Eisenhower and Senator McCain and those I mentioned above. If we support the strong leaders of today, the legacy of the leadership values of those we have lost, and nurture future leaders, I have no doubt that the world will pull back from the precipice and instead find “peace, progress, and prosperity”.