This year marks the centenary of the beginning of the Great War of 1914-1918. Television, newspapers and magazines will all be devoting stories and discussions to the impact of this “Great War” upon the 20th Century, and indeed, its continuing impact upon our own 21st Century. With the coming of World War II from 1939-1945, the Great War was renamed World War I to distinguish it from Hitler’s War.
I just finished reading a superb book by historian, David Reynolds, called The Long Shadow: the Great War and the Twentieth Century. In choosing his title, The Long Shadow,Reynolds hints that his concern over the Great War is with far more than the years 1914-1918. Indeed, his book revolves around the entire century that has since elapsed. What I find extremely interesting in this study of the war’s impact on the culture, mindsets, politics and economics of those countries that were engaged in fighting it, is the tremendous influence it had, and continues to have, on our attitudes and contemporary thinking about the world we live in and how we view it. This brings me to the heart of my letter: the importance of ethical, values-based leadership.
The shock of Russia’s takeover of the Crimea and the rest of the world’s seemingly sterile and futile inability to stop President Putin’s blatant violation and ignoring of international law, rekindles memories of similar situations with the 1939 Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia, the 1935 Italian invasion of Abyssinia, the 1931 Japanese invasion of Chinese Manchuria, and the inability in 1914 of key European leaders to prevent the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria from becoming the spark that set off the Great War. There are no easy solutions to the issues and problems being let loose in our world today by the contemporary equivalent of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. What exists are opportunities and a crying need for men and women in positions of authority to step up and grab the mantle of Truthful Leadership.
One might ask, what does a Libor scandal, a housing mortgage scandal, an insider trading scandal, and President Putin’s ruthless and relentless seizing of the Crimea have in common? The answer is each of these set of circumstances reflects on the mental attitude and behavior of many individuals within our society. Leadership is not an isolated event. Leadership comes from inside each individual, and their moral courage to live their values and do “what is right” even when it is fearful and completely unpopular.
My plea to each of you is that now is the time to step up, be counted, put a stake in the ground, and preserve the memory of a common purpose, pursued by this great nation of ours as expressed in our magnificent document, The United States Constitution. We are the envy of the world, exciting among people all over the globe, the wonder and reverence of our values. Your Character counts! Effective leadership will always reside within the “mystery of character.” I close with these ideas for you to reflect upon:
Be aware of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words;
Be aware of your words, for your words become your deeds;
Be aware of our deeds, for your deeds become our habits;
Be aware of your habits, for our habits become your character;
Be aware of your character, for your character becomes your destiny.
Best wishes to you.