The Measure of Leaders

“It’s in moments of decision that your destiny is shaped.”

Such is the wisdom I obtained the other day from a fortune cookie.

It’s a familiar message, one stated more notably by Martin Luther King Jr.:

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

And Abraham Lincoln:

“If you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

(Realizing that Lincoln and King lived in different times, I should add that their good words apply of course to women as well as men,)

The decisions you make and the way you handle power, are two interwoven characteristics that are closely watched by those around you. And especially by those you’re trying to lead. Good decisions and a careful and judicious use of power go a long way towards building an organization of people who follow by choice; people who want to be there, who want to help realize your goals, who are engaged and energized by your vision.

It’s easy to understand why there are so few exceptional leaders when you consider how people you are familiar with measure up in these areas. What kinds of decisions did they make at times of adversity? How did they handle their power? Take a minute and evaluate some people in leadership positions against these measures. People in business, politics, education, sports. Perhaps even yourself.

Think about recent events. Men too numerous to mention in high corporate positions who’ve been outed for abusing women, sometimes many women over many years. How do they do on the Lincoln test?

Then there’s James Rickey a member of one of Basking Ridge New Jersey’s old Scots-Irish families. In the midst of one more hate filled town committee meeting where they were once again angrily discussing how to not approve the construction of a mosque, Rickey rose and firmly stated to those assembled, “We’re all human beings. We should respect each other.” Martin Luther King Jr would be proud of him.

Quality of decisions, use of power, responses to challenge and controversy.. How do you measure up?




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