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On Leadership

I’ve been following the U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team as they fought for - and achieved - fair and equitable treatment from their national governing body. What I found most inspiring about their story was their commitment to solidarity. Everyone had to stand together, from the individual players to their potential replacements, any one of whom could have said ”I’ll play” but instead chose to sacrifice personal gain for greater good. Their selflessness elicited broad and vocal support from groups like the NHLPA, MLBPA, NFLPA, even members of the United States Senate. Gender disparity persists in sport, but this victory is a benchmark for battles to come.

Notable was the silence from those I’d expect to take sides. True leaders don’t remain silent in times of crisis. It’s far more important to be on the right side of history than to avoid the hint of controversy.

On Face the Nation this morning, decorated historian, Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, and Pulitzer Prize winning author David McCullough (whose new book The American Spirit arrives Tuesday) said of leadership:

The one quality that is prevalent in so many of our best, most important leaders, our most inspiring examples is they do not quit.

Leaders don’t quit when things get hard, or when the work no longer feels personally beneficial. Leadership isn’t personal, it’s communal. Leaders give generous credit in times of success and take extreme ownership of failure. It takes rare courage to stand by one’s convictions and speak in their defense. There is no room for ego.

You don’t have to be a star athlete, elected official, or C-level executive to lead. These individuals rarely make good leaders. By virtue of their success they have more to lose: status, money, and career trajectory come to mind. The best leaders are instead often invisible. As Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said over two millennia ago:

“the very best leader is the one you barely know exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, the people will say: we did it ourselves”

I hope the success of the USWNT inspires invisible leaders everywhere to stand together and fight for what’s right - in our communities, our schools, our teams, our jobs, our governments - to never quit, no matter how alone we may feel and regardless of the resistance we may face. To do these things not because they’re easy, but because they’re hard. That is the American spirit. That is the human spirit.

This post was first published in my monthly newsletter.