Welcome to my monthly leadership blog. This month I challenge you to evaluate your leadership through the lens of courage. Isn't it interesting to consider why certain persons can rise from the ashes of tragedy or anonymity to hero or stardom status? How could someone seemingly be amongst the many oppressed voices in a crowd, yet they emerge to provide leadership and guidance for the masses. If you are a regular subscriber to my blogs, you know I will encourage you to reflect on your experiences and your circle of influence to identify persons that you might categorize in these ways. What caused them to stand out? Were they any more talented, knowledgeable, or positioned than you? As you ponder these questions, please take a moment to consider characteristics you identified in them before they were acknowledged for doing something exceptional or brave. How do their characteristics compare to some of yours? Whatever the perceived differences or similarities, I believe the ability to stand out is within us. The sustaining feature to be possessed is in having the capacity to DISRUPT. Our challenge, moving forward as leaders, is to recognize the courage it takes to DISRUPT. Notice, I did not mention awareness. Why? Simply being aware does not require courage.
Taking action once we are aware demands courage.
As we begin this examination, let us dissect DISRUPT. Surprisingly "DIS" can be a verb, noun, or prefix. I use it here as a prefix to reference expressing negation or denoting reversal or separation from something specific. Leadership often requires one to stand alone or call attention to things that are wrong...and that takes courage. Courage is necessary because what is being called out goes against the status quo- surely a disruption in some way. Looking back in history, we have a prolific list of persons who "dissed" the status quo. Here are a few given by Bibliography Online:
William Tyndale (1494 – 1536)
Tyndale lived when it was forbidden to translate the Bible into English. However, Tyndale believed that everyone should read the Bible in their native tongue – and not just remain the preserve of priests who could read Latin. Rather than accept the law, he continued to print Bibles in English and was later arrested and executed. Shortly after his death, the law changed, and English Bibles were allowed.
Rosa Parks (1913 – 2005)
Parks made a stand by refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus. In the 1950s, buses, like most public areas, were segregated, with black people relegated to the bus' back, usually with inferior seats. However, when challenged by the driver, Parks refused to stand – as a symbolic protest against society's segregation. The driver demanded, "Why don't you stand up?" to which Rosa replied, "I don't think I should have to stand up."
Malala Yousafzai (1997 – )
Malala is a Pakistani schoolgirl who defied the Taliban's threats to campaign for the right to education. She published a blog about her education in hopes that more young women in Pakistan would pursue education. This made her a target of the Taliban, who believed women should not be educated. She was later shot in the head by the Taliban but survived and became a global advocate for human rights, women's rights, and the right to education.
Alexis Ohanian (1983 – )
Alexis is taking a stand, joining in the nationwide fight against police brutality and racial injustice following the May 25 killing of George Floyd. In a powerful announcement, Ohanian retired from Reddit, asking the board to replace him with a Black candidate to elevate Black voices. Ohanian is a co-founder of Reddit and entrepreneur (Elite Daily)
I could have included countless others in the list above. Diversity spanning time, sex, ethnicity, and purpose further supports this attribute's universality that the courage to DISRUPT is indeed leadership. Each of the persons above took a stand for something. How about you? What should you take a stand for that may be larger than you? What can you "DIS" and in so doing find a positive or right a wrong?
Next, let us examine "RUPT." It happens to be a root word that implies breaking or bursting. What do you need to "RUPT"? Surely you can think of something that needs breaking. If not, explore these questions. Are you watching injustice occur within your systems and structures, yet you think it is too costly to challenge? Do you see defects in your systems or processes, yet you think they are too hard to tackle? Do you rarely listen to voices that have been hushed or silenced in your organization due to their employment position? I do not know where you stand on any of these questions. But again, leadership often requires the courage to DISRUPT. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King eloquently put it this way, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy." Imagine what could have been if silenced voices had prevailed in these events below:
In 2015, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) imposed one of the most significant civil penalties in the agency's history on the Takata Corporation ~ $200 million for violations of the Motor Vehicle Safety Act. It specifically involved airbag safety.
The Enron scandal, revealed in October 2001, eventually led to the bankruptcy of the Enron Corporation, an American energy company based in Houston, Texas, and the dissolution of Arthur Andersen, which was one of the five largest audit and accountancy partnerships in the world. In addition to being one of the most significant bankruptcy reorganization in American history at that time, Enron undoubtedly is the biggest audit failure. (The Case Analysis of the Scandal of Enron by Li, Yuhao published in the International Journal of Biometrics, 2010)
Leadership often requires the courage to DISRUPT
I do not need to share what chaos resulted from the poor decisions made in the situations cited above...history has spoken. While I have no detailed knowledge about the specific events, root cause assessments in most cases would suggest that at some level, some person, metric, or process might have indicated that something catastrophic may have been looming. Hindsight is 20/20... but hindsight is usually too late.
Leaders, when do you need to show courage? Your lack of courage might not result in loss of life or fortune, but who knows the ultimate reality of failed leadership, i.e., failed courage. Some feel it's irresponsible to take positions that could negatively affect their salary, portfolios, or prestige. But isn't leadership more about others rather than yourself? To be a leader implies that someone is following you. Leaders, let us have the courage to DISRUPT. When we do, we may become the leaders we aspire to be and... more importantly, the leaders our followers would respect and deserve.
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