Since courage, wisdom, and hard work are such rare virtues, how do we begin to build them into our lives so that we will be able to stand during the storms of conflict and controversy that inevitably and invariably rage around us?
First, we really need to focus on the solutions not the problems. Often we get so caught up in the problems that we neglect the most important responsibility a principled leader has in a crisis: solving the problems and ending the crisis. We focus on the fact that we have been unfairly treated, that we have been blind-sided, that our words have been misquoted, that our ideas have been misrepresented, and that our goals have been subverted. All those things may be true. But proving that all those things are true really doesn’t get us anywhere. What we really need to do is to address the root of the problems. What we really need to do is to train our attentions on solutions. What we really need to do is provide answers. General George Patton had a basic rule for all his commanders, “Never bring me problems without at least three possible solutions.” It would behoove us all if we too would adhere to that notion.
Second, we need to keep your eye on the rim not on the scoreboard. Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden constantly exhorted his players to focus on their game, their skills, their fundamentals, and their strategy. If they did that, the score would take care of itself. All too often though—and this is particularly true when the storms of life hit us—we tend to obsess over the scoreboard rather than taking heed to our shot. We’re looking over our shoulder paying more attention to the next guy than we are to ourselves. We will inevitably loose track of what actually matters, why we are there, and what we are trying to do. And then we will have a very hard time finishing well—if we are able to finish at all.
And third, we need to balance patience and urgency. In a crisis, things are rather urgent. Something has to be done. And it has to be done now. A principled leader never hesitates when action is called for, when decisions must be made, or when duty calls. But the leader will also always look before he or she leaps. While a sense of urgency is a virtue when lives are on the line, when justice is threatened, or when truth is jeopardized, that urgency needs to be placed in its appropriate context. That urgency must be balanced by patience. All action must be considered action. All decisions must be weighed decisions. The consequences of our ideas and actions must be kept in view. Before we pull the trigger, it is always a good think to take a deep breath. It is always appropriate to season urgency with patience and discretion. In a crisis there is nothing worse that someone who has suddenly become a wild card. In the midst of a storm of controversy there is nothing worse than someone who has suddenly become a loose cannon.
I keep telling myself these things in these days. I know they are true. Now, I simply must practice them.