“Lincoln,” wisdom, adult human development and a yearning for leadership

For at least 120 seconds after the movie ended no one stirred in the cinema. We all knew the ending. Lincoln was assassinated. It is an indication of a great movie that an audience, and an Aussie audience at that, stay silent and moved, long after a movie ends, deep in the story. Perhaps wanting the ending to be different. Wanting history to have rewritten itself. Maybe even, like me, wanting, so deep in my marrow, for a leader like Lincoln to rise again in the world, somewhere, and have the fortitude and courage to speak up, stand up, take the kind of bold and daring action we so long to see.

But at what price this action that needs to be taken? For Lincoln, it was war, and the death of so many people. We look back in history and we know that there was a descent into darkness for there to be light. Most of the great leaders of history have had to choose a path like this…where there are casualties, and those casualties are children of mothers and fathers.

Lincoln was a great man. Like all of us, he was deeply floored. Greatness is not an easy path. It is why so few walk it. Yet he risked everything for what he believed was right, even his life.

As I looked out across the magnificent blues and whites and brights of the Pacific Ocean this Sunday morning, I thought about truth… and honestly… and ethics… and Lincoln. He was willing to blur the line of ethics, through his journey, to get the vote to end slavery.

Does the end ever justify the means? Is there ever a time to manipulate, to bribe? And how do we not fall from the very thin precipice of blurred ethics into pure evil? Where does wisdom live? Is death and war ever justified?

Abraham Lincoln to Ulysses S. Grant “Each of us has made it possible for the other to do terrible things.”

These are questions few of us regular mortals have to face in our own decision process. But our leaders do face these decisions. Our leaders of industry and public life. The CEO that says go drill for oil in Alaska, no matter what the cost. The president who says bomb here, kill there.

Wisdom asks us to consider why? Why do we drill? Why do we send men and women to war an death? Why do we coerce someone to vote yes, or no? Is the why ever big enough?

These questions have challenged us through the ages. The power of asking these questions opens us to wisdom. There is no right or wrong answer. There is only the answer that is right in the larger context of this moment in time. And few of us take into account that larger context. Few of us consider the whole, as we decide on the parts. As we judge the Obama’s of the world, never really knowing the back story, the story that doesn’t live in the public domain.

It is so easy to be black and white…that truth should be spoken 100% of the time, that to stray from the path of truth ever is a descent into the abyss of evil. That war is always wrong. I am mindful that the moment I utter the word ‘always’ and any other absolute, I invoke righteousness.
I have reflected on this, on this glorious Sunday morning, as I recognise that I have been one who held truth as inviolate, no matter what. And that maybe, just maybe, this stand of mine may, on some rare occasion, be the opposite of what is called for. That great leadership is the ability to know the difference, and to not then descend into evil. To bare the full measure of your decision.

Now that is a cross to bare.

History has shown, again and again, that there are times when it is called upon for leaders to make very hard choices that have a high price. The leader that can make these kinds of decisions, the leader that chooses to descend and yet returns again from the darkness without letting evil inhabit his soul, is a rare leader.

Wisdom is acquired through rigorous development of the interior. The tragedy, and perhaps one of the reasons why we have so few wise leaders at this time in history, is that we give little credence to developing our interiors in our business schools, corporations and institutions of higher learning. Adult human development is simply not something that people see as that important.

Without it, without an intentional focus on evolving wisdom in leadership, we are doomed.

Oh..and by the way…this is the work I have done for the last 15 years…the development of leaders, not through brief coaching conversations over a short 6 or 12 months, but through hours and hours over years and years of skillful stewarding of another human to step into their evolving wisdom. It is the most privileged work I know.

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