“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
George Santayana’s enduring quote has been seen, or heard, by many of us since we were in secondary school. Understanding these words is one thing, but understanding, learning and acting based on this statement could be the single act of courage that transforms a leader from ordinary to extraordinary.
History is replete with the names of leaders who “set the example” they demanded their colleagues follow. Hitler, Saddam Hussein, James Jones, Kenneth Lay, Bernie Madoff. But these “leaders” lacked important qualities — ethics and integrity. How might history have been different if enough courageous people in these circumstances had stood together against the tide? While that takes extraordinary fortitude on the part of the participant, is there a viable, acceptable alternative? Martin Luther King said about a particularly challenging period in our national growth, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”
A modicum of research provides us with examples of leadership failures AND of leadership successes. Taking inventory of the characteristics of some of the greatest leaders of all time, you will see that the following characteristics apply “across the board”:
So, in the end, what is our choice? History gives us the lens to clearly see what has previously shaped calamity and success. History provides us with the opportunity to make choices that might sometimes be called “the harder right.” With the evidence readily available before us, the question that begs asking is:
Who among us is doomed and who has the courage to transform?