“It is our duty as men and women to proceed as though the limits of our abilities do not exist.” – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Leadership has a different meaning today.
Before September 11th, leadership meant painting a compelling vision of the future, setting clear goals, and motivating employees.
Today, it means instilling employees with the courage required to show up for work.
The attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11th are horrifying and despicable. In a world that allows both terrorism and the conditions that breed it to exist, they were also inevitable. What isn’t inevitable is how we respond to these and future attacks.
With luck, we’ll learn from history. We also suffered from a sneak attack in World War II, and with luck that war taught us some important lessons. We learned, for example, that while a whole people is never evil, a whole people can be moved to act evilly by evil leaders. We also learned that the only defense against suicidal attackers is to eliminate those who direct their attacks.
We may have even learned that the most effective response to attack is not to discriminate against those of our own citizens who share ethnicity with our attackers, neither before we’re certain who directed the attacks nor after we’ve identified them. In World War II we sequestered honest Japanese citizens. If it turns out these attacks were the work of Arab terrorists, we must not repeat this mistake.
In World War II we also learned that America’s strongest weapon is its economic strength and its culture. We beat the Japanese, not because our armed forces were more courageous or better led. The Japanese forces, whatever we may think of them in other respects, fought courageously and were a tenacious foe. We beat the Japanese with our economy and a culture that rewards merit, not inherited aristocracy or ethnic affinity. That’s something we must never forget.
As a business leader you aren’t a mere spectator. Those who report to you need leadership right now and will respond to it. Right now they’re susceptible to both fear and bigotry. Fear will harm our economy and bigotry will harm our culture, which is exactly what the terrorists who attacked us want. You have a role in defusing these issues before they become unmanageable.
Most of all, it’s up to you as a leader to remind those who look to you for leadership of the most important issue in any conflict: Be careful who you choose as enemies, because you’re likely to become just like them.
If our response to terrorism is to take on some of the characteristics of the terrorists themselves, then they will have won.