The Leadership Olympics: A Gold Medal Model

 

 

 

Do you know who taught U.S. Senator John  McCain “a thing or two about courage?”

A woman, who last week, was the most recent recipient of a Congressional Gold Medal.

In the misty vapors of big politics, the Medal is an undeniable signal of approval.

Manage Fear

McCain, who spent six horrible years in a North Vietnamese prison camp, quoted Aung San Suu Kyi’s famous dictum in an emotional tribute to her:” It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”

Since the American Revolution, our Congress has commissioned gold medals as its highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions that will endure long past the achievement.The Medal requires an Act of Congress. It honors an individual – although not necessarily a US citizen.

Price Tag

The Gold Medal has often been awarded to those who serve the common good. Past winners include Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Jonas Salk and Rosa Parks. Notably, selfless heroism reflects the pinnacle of leadership but it always has a price tag.

In 1988, the brutal rule of a strongman who murdered protesters launched Myanmar’s difficult struggle for freedom. A remarkable woman, Suu Kyi committed more than two decades to challenging a repressive regime. She endured 15 years of house arrest in a shunning which completely restricted her speech and physical mobility. Although offered freedom in exchange for exile, she would not leave her people and their dreams of democracy.

Growth & Sustainability

In organizations and in communities, deficits in leadership affect sustainability.  First, because of intricate and growing interdependencies, weak or corrupt leaders have intolerable implications beyond their own sphere of influence. Second, because none of us has a grip on the macro trends that will deliver challenges we don’t anticipate. What is sure? The costs of poor leadership are failure, implosion, and decay while others, in a competitive world, make progress.

Aung San Suu Kyi gave up decades of her life for others. The NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote recently “few leaders now dare to throw caution and polls to the wind and tell people the truth about anything hard or controversial…Many won’t even give up a news cycle.”  His analysis underscores the patterns of political behavior that are deeply true and relevant: it is the fear of losing power that corrupts. He, like many others, thinks leaders are at their best when they dare to lead without fearing politics.

Courage Wins

So, how do any of us “honor The Lady from Myanmar in a way that really matters?”  Friedman suggests imitation. If you were fearless, what would you do?

Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com

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