[October 19, 2014] In 1936, critics called Winston Churchill the “number one warmonger” in Britain for writing that the German Nazis were going to cause a war on a larger scale than ever before. Churchill had something that only the greatest of leaders possess. He had the ability of seeing the world clearly. Such insight requires a talent to foretell the future, the ability to identify an existing problem with a realistic solution, and the aptitude to communicate that insight into easily understood terms. These are the most forward thinking senior leaders and they characteristically do not easily anger, they are patient and understand that great things are difficult and may take time.
The top story in the news this past couple of weeks has been the spread of the Ebola virus and the lives it has claimed in West Africa. Its spread to the United States and other nations outside Africa is causing panic in political circles. Ebola was no black swan event. It didn’t appear one day and become a serious world threat the next. The virus has been known as a killer for decades – the deadliest form of the virus was discovered in 1976. “Why there wasn’t a senior leader who was there alerting us to the potential spread?” is the consequential question of the day.
Senior leaders must be able to “see” the world as it is, not through the rose-colored glasses of an ideology or theory. Ideologies and theories help senior leaders frame events into a mental map. But those leaders who are able to use ideologies and theories for the tools that they are, will be the most successful of leaders. Churchill understood this. When his country saw peace at any cost, he identified the danger and asked that Britain begin to prepare. Not unlike today when leaders ask that their countries prepare for impending danger, those leaders able to see the future will be frequently mocked and ignored.
World leadership missed the Ebola virus. What other foreseeable force is pushing the world into a dark place? Many tell us that Islamic extremism is another, as well as the misuse of nuclear fusion power-generation technology. Are there others? Certainly, there are and will be as long as humankind exists. When these waves of extremism and technology misuse passes, only then can we look back and say how successful were the senior leaders who gave us the warnings to be prepared.
Seeing the world clearly is a critical trait of senior leaders. It is not a prerequisite but a necessary trait of the greatest and most successful. Winston Churchill had a difficult time leading up to WWII but once it started and his country realized the gift he had, then was he able to offer the greatest of leadership.
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