Being a leader comes with having to buck the system sometimes. Often times leaders make decisions that are not very popular at the time but turn out to be powerful and influential on the future of the world. Here are seven of those that withstood the temptation to bow down to public opinion.
Inspirational leaders who did what was right, even when it not was popular
Between World War I and World War II a man by the name of Billy Mitchell defied nearly every leader of his day from the president on down in a determined effort to prepare the nation for the future of combat. Unfortunately the nation was tired of war and was enjoying life and ultimately Billy was court marshaled for his effort. His main preparation was in the idea of creating an air force component. His second fight was to prepare Hawaii for a Japanese attack. Again his ideas were dismissed and many accused him of war mongering. However, both issues came to light soon enough and everything that he predicted came to pass. The US did need to build air power and the Japanese did attack Pearl Harbor. Sadly, it was too late and we paid a price. He pushed for the right things and was dismissed. Eventually they did name a plane out of him and a city in South Dakota after him because they knew they should have listened.
If you have seen the movie Lone Survivor you may have thought of the ramifications of the choice early in the movie not to kill the child that wandered upon the four Navy Seals. Many feel that they should have simply killed the boy and his father and accomplished their mission. Even today there is debate among folks whether or not they did the right thing. That fateful choice led to the deaths of many men (Taliban fighters and more Navy Seals who came on the rescue as well as Marcus’s three companions. Several have written to call that a foolish choice and condemned him for it. However, in the heat of battle to take a moment and choose life is momentous and show the real heart of Americans. We only kill when we need to but when given the option we are a nation that chooses life. That statement speaks to the Taliban fighters even today.
The scientist Galileo and others fought for a truth that we hold as normal today. In his day, people believed that the Earth was the center of the universe. Boldly Galileo sacrificed his family and was ultimately excommunicated from the church for such a statement. Yet he continued to back up his beliefs with science. While not popular in his day, this scientist and inventor changed the way we look at the universe even today.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Even during World War II German POWs living in Texas would sometimes be given permission to go to town and eat and take in a movie. These enemies of the nation were allowed to sit at the counters because they were white. However, soldiers who happened to be African American in the same diner at the same moment were not allowed to sit at the counter. It is hard to fathom a diner today that would treat an enemy of our nation better than its own heroic soldiers but that was the sad reality for many in our nation. White privilege was over the top around the nation when it came to voting rights, seats on busses and jobs. In all areas discrimination and racism was seen as normal. Into that fray arose Martin Luther King Jr who spoke intelligently and boldly for the rights of African Americans. His efforts were so unpopular that they tried to kill him, blow up his house and put him in jail. But he continued to do what was right and ultimately changed the heart of our nation.
Emancipation Proclamation The Civil War raged on despite the fact that most had believed that the war would be short lived. The northern troops had been losing battles and making little progress toward ending the war. Abraham Lincoln debated his most pressing decision. His staff had written up what would ultimately be called the Emancipation Proclamation. Many in the north were not sure that this was the best course of action. They wondered why he would do such a thing when the war seemed so far from over. Lincoln slipped the proclamation into his desk. This would wait until the north had a victory. When they did he made the proclamation official, freeing all of the slaves in the rebellion. Ultimately he was applauded for this courageous move. At the time though there was much grumbling and complaining amongst the congress and real anger toward him that came out of the Confederacy. Lincoln held his ground and is heralded today as a great hero to human freedom.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
The world was at war and that required a leader that not only loved his nation but also could work with the complexity of working with allies that are extremely diverse. As Eisenhower kept a characteristic cool in most situations he was being pressured unrelentingly by other American commanders like George Patton who said, “This is what happens when you cease to be an American and become an Allie.” But this warfare took something more than simply military brilliance. There was a special finesse required to work with the larger than life egos that had multiple personal agendas and their own patriotic passions. Ike worked diligently to enable all sides to work together, as a result the Nazi threat was ultimately crushed.
Little known today. Saunier was the Superintendent of the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago. A superintendent in those days was similar to a CEO today. Harry had this idea that if you would tell the story of the homeless men and women that he served that people would support the work. Others in the industry normally slogged through daily operations and did not really believe that people would want to hear the stories of these men and women who were down on their luck. But Harry had a dream. After recruiting help from a local radio station they began to produce a radio show called “Unshackled”. Quickly this radio show that presented reenactments of the lives of the men and women from the streets of Chicago became a sensation. The show would ultimately air around the world and support for the Pacific Garden Mission soared. Today, telling the stories of the men and women that being served at rescue missions is a standard practice. But it all began with a visionary leader going against the grain.
We live in a world of polls and heated debates through all forms of media. It would be easy for a leader to simply go with the flow so that they can remain in their position. Those that want to change the world may need to risk offending others in their cause. Which type of leader will you be?