Kennedy, Churchill and FDR on “Naked” Leadership

By David Ryback, Ph.D.

The courage that Jack Kennedy displayed in facing down the Cuban missile crisis, that Churchill showed in fostering Britons’ courage to show a stiff upper lip in the face of Nazi bombing, that any leader musters when he or she reaches out for the right decision and the rest of the organization subsequently breathes a sigh of relief—this collective sigh of relief is brought about by the courage to recognize the prevailing sense of what others are already thinking and feeling but are afraid to articulate.

The word “courage” has at its root the old French word “corage,” associated with the modern French word for heart—“coeur.” Courage is heartfelt.  It stems from deep within, from the real self.  True leadership is heartfelt; otherwise it is mere management.

The deepest form of leadership is the ability to stand up to the greatest of crises, reach down to one’s real self in terms of naked courage, and communicate with heartfelt eloquence a solution that others can understand instantly and embrace collectively as a surrender to what truth reveals—the Awareness Factor—that erases all the myths and spins and obfuscations that hid the basic truth until that very moment of revelation.   But such awareness does not have to be postponed until such crises test the leader; it can exist from day to day if the leader and the organization choose to value it as a working priority.

All humans are complex and so are all project managers.  There is no pure essence of awareness that isn’t met by complex factors teasing its saintly values.  The finest quality of awareness, when it does prevail, is what remains after all human complexities fall away to allow the true self to shine through at critical moments.  By reaching down to the real self, a project manager can simultaneously reach across to the collective truth felt by the team being addressed.  Quite paradoxically, the uniqueness of the leader becomes integrated at that moment with the sense of uniqueness of the individuals being addressed.  It’s as if the sense of uniqueness, though real for each individual, is at the same time a myth.  The quality of awareness—that all feel through the eloquence of the project manager’s sharing his or her true self, in that moment—transcends any differences.

Another way of putting it:  the most unique and unutterable aloneness we can feel is in itself a universal experience.  The greatest leaders have the courage to bridge that universal quality.  Remember FDR’s historic statement, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  With that simple statement, he reached all those who heard his words at the core of their inner being.  Courage from the heart, at its essence, is the most powerful stance for mastering emotional communication in any business organization in order to bring out the most productive potential (desired outcome) in the individuals comprising the work force.  Whether it’s laughter in the hallway, tension in the boardroom, or stress on line work, the ability to connect at a deep level masters troubling emotions and creates an opportunity for greater success at every level of the organization.


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