None of us has all the answers. In fact, we – each of us – likely have few, if any, of the answers to life’s greatest challenges. Sure. Our politicians wax eloquently (or not so eloquently) about a litany of challenges they claim to have the answers to. Citizens can be politically involved and vote, write, visit, and collaborate with their representatives to attempt to find the answers. And some can protest and a few even riot and destroy property trying to find their answers to our national challenges.
While I personally prefer collaboration, peaceful protesting and waxing eloquently (even ineloquently) to rioting, I have to realize those preferences of mine come from the limits of my experiences. I am not, here, justifying the destruction of property and injuring or killing as means to find the answers we seek.
But revolution (and its accompanying violence) can ultimately find answers (as our own experiences against the British crown in America proved) – Thomas Jefferson agreed writing, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants” (although this oft-used quote needs some context: according to Snopes.com, Jefferson “... also noted in his letter that such acts were often founded by ill- informed groups. The remedy to these uprisings, according to Jefferson, was to ‘set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them.’”)
What I am suggesting is that those who riot, as much as they may be ill-informed, have different life experiences than I. I don’t know them and what they’ve experienced. I haven’t walked, to use a supposed Native American expression encouraging humility, “a mile in their moccasins.”
One thing I do know is that I don’t know a lot. I know for certain that I have few, if any, answers. One of the greatest revelations I have had as I’ve aged is just how little I know. I wish when I was younger I realized, then, how little I knew about everything. I had an uncle who used to say, “I know nutin’ ‘bout nobody and no t’ing, no how.” I think Uncle Red might have actually reached enlightenment. I should have listened. Ah, but I was young and dumb.
Perhaps, though, there is one thing I can say with a reasonable degree of certainty ... with at least a sliver of a chance of some “t’ing” being right ... and this thought of mine comes from decades of trying, failing and trying again. There is one tool we can use to overcome the fact that we know far less then we think we know. There is one tool that could work to find some answers. That tool is leadership.
Leadership has been defined many ways, but at its most basic level it’s about influencing people. And to even have a snowball’s chance in Hell at solving our national challenges, it is the influencing of people that must occur.
If we were to practice the five most important (they’re the most important in my opinion ... but what do I know?) leadership traits, we might have a chance of influencing people. We might have a chance to find some of the answers we seek. Most of these traits won’t make the most prominent lists of leadership traits (like the list of 14 traits the Marine Corps drills into its recruits), yet my own experiences have proven, at least to me, that they can help us find answers.
And you know the great thing? These five traits can be practiced and we can get better at them over time! But we must THINK them and PRACTICE them genuinely and constantly to get better at them.
The five most important leadership traits in my opinion are (not necessarily in order of priority):
1. Humility (in other words, it (“it” being “life”) is not about you). Most leadership guides and books don’t talk about humility but I believe it is right up there with the most important traits a person must develop to find any answers. It’s the “listening” trait.
2. Gratitude. It’s the trait of appreciating what you have, not lamenting over what you don’t.
3. Grit. Perseverance. The trait of “keeping on keeping on” even in the face of failure, sadness, and pain.
4. Optimism and hopefulness. According to the Huffington Post, “Negative thinking is our enemy. It dampens our enthusiasm and motivation. It contributes to indecision, inertia, procrastination and outright derailment of our goal-directed actions. It defeats us. It beats us. It creates the ‘bad luck’ that we will later bemoan.” I couldn’t say it better.
5. Kindness. This trait goes beyond empathy and why I prefer it. It’s the “love trait” of forgiveness, understanding, caring, and actually doing something vice just feeling sorry about it.
It can be hard to have much hope ... to find any answers ... given the coronavirus pandemic, riots, social injustice and depressed economy our nation has experienced. I don’t know nuthin’ ‘bout nobody or no t’ing. But I am pretty sure that if we were to practice the five most important leadership traits (especially humility and kindness) and get better at them over time, some answers might actually come.
Newspaper columnist Barry Fetzer writes from his home on Queens Creek.