National catastrophes are unexpected and difficult. The images and stories from Texas are heart-wrenching and depressing. The devastation and the ensuing human toil pull at your heart as you desire to do something, anything to alleviate a small bit of suffering. Certainly the country is praying for those experiencing shock and loss. In the midst of this tragedy, it is equally beautiful to read stories of deep compassion and love for one another. The strength of the human spirit is fully on display as neighbors help neighbors, strangers are welcomed into homes, and companies give generously to those in need. Tragedy brings out the worst and best in people.
This beauty is oftentimes unleased through courageous leadership – ordinary men and women responding to tragedy with hope and sacrifice. Rather than complain, they corral others to come together and rise above the catastrophe. In Texas, individuals are embodying this leadership in extraordinary ways through mobilization, comfort, and commitment. Persons who never would have been seen as leaders because they did not have an “official title” are now exhibiting profound leadership through their actions and attitudes in the midst of tragedy. Difficulties not only develop leadership; they unleash it.
These events cause me to reflect on leadership, specifically as it relates to difficulties. What truly makes a leader? How do we see a leader in the midst of difficulties?
Leaders provide hope. It is easy to see the obstacles. But, leaders see beyond the obstacles to the possibilities either through the difficulty or on the other side of it. Furthermore, they instill this hope in others who are paralyzed by the pain. Hope is oftentimes an elusive reality, especially when there is loss. Yet, genuine leaders grab ahold of hope and will it to reality. Titles don’t accomplish this; human spirit does. In this sense, leadership is available to anyone regardless of background or opportunity.
Leaders produce action. Rather than point fingers at the inactions of others, leaders pull up their sleeves, step into life, and get dirty. They formulate a plan to achieve that hope. They do not sit on the sidelines hoping for change to action; they implement it. It is not dependent on education or money but rather the willingness to sacrificially commit to rebuilding and restoring. It is easy in the midst of difficulty to look around waiting for someone to step up. Leaders, on the other hand, look in the mirror then do something. It is humbling and praiseworthy to see ordinary individuals displaying extraordinary acts of leadership.
Leaders are empathetic. The human temptation in the face of catastrophe is to go inward. We tend to think about ourselves. We become protective, self-interested, and narcissistic. “I don’t have time for others because I have so much to do and process myself.” On the contrary, leaders naturally consider others. They rise above their emotions and empathize with the pain of others. There becomes a collective purpose in the mist of the difficulty rather than a “take care of myself” retreat.
In this sense, leadership is available to anyone. It is not educated, bought, or promoted. It is made in the midst of tragedy.