Three Ways to Lead with Light

Quite frankly these days I’m just trying to get through the darkness of our time. 

In 1650, the English Theologian Thomas Fuller wrote that often-quoted line, “The darkest hour is just before the dawn.”

For me, when it’s darkest, when I am horrified by nightly death tolls, or righteousness that prompts inexplicable violence, I look for light on the horizon. Sometimes it’s hard to see more than flickers, but I know the light is there and waiting for me find it.

Here are three sources that have proven illuminating to me.

The first is the wisdom of the ages (both secular and spiritual). For example, I re-read President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s First Inaugural Address. As you’ll recall, FDR assumed the presidency in 1933 when our country was facing 23% unemployment, a collapse of the banking system, and crushing poverty. While his first inaugural address, included that famous line, “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” That phrase didn’t receive the greatest applause from his audience in a speech where six times he called for “action and action now.” I hope you’ll find hope in this excerpt of FDR’s 1933 address:

“This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.”

My second source of light comes from inspirational people in my network. As many of you know, in the recent past I turned to more than 140 leaders in my circle who graciously shared insights on how they foster hope and resilience so they and the people they serve emerge Stronger Through Adversity (which is the title of a McGraw-Hill book I released last month). One of those leaders is John Timmerman, a former Vice President of Quality at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company and now Vice President of Operations at Mercy Hospital Saint Louis. John reminded me of the importance of looking inward, so each of us can reach out to others (not with hate or judgment but with compassion). In Stronger Through Adversity, I share this light from John:

“I’ve always felt like an effective leader but frankly not a compassionate one in the way we need it now. I’m committed to doing better and asking myself every day what can I do to break away from a comfortable routine because things are not comfortable for many people. Did I challenge myself and others to give more than they thought possible because others are finding themselves in an impossible situation? Am I pausing to get a pulse on how someone is feeling, seizing every opportunity to recognize people for going the extra mile and encouraging those that don’t feel they can run another mile? This pandemic is causing a lot of suffering and hopefully it will change us all for the better.”

My final source of hope is my faith and my family. For me (even though virtual) I see light in the eyes and laughter of my grandchildren. I draw faith from the Psalmist who declared “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” That passage alone helped me find my way through the darkest few months of my life when both my wife, Nora, and my mother died. It also pierced through many shadows cast during the pandemic.

So, let’s take a breath, look for our sources of light, and face these dark hours with hope, kindness, realistic optimism, and a desire to light the paths for others.

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Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

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