Stay the course: an idiom of the English language that means to persevere in the face of difficulty when the desired outcome is determined to be worth obstacles met along the way. ~wisegeek.com
This past week provided me with several reminders that effective leaders stay the course. I'm not a movie buff so I tend to be sufficiently behind on movie watching. True to form, I just watched Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom, and what a reminder that leaders stay the course. The series of decisions that led Mandela to prison was a result of his "staying the course." I thought his decision after his release was even bolder and demonstrated to an even greater extent what it means to stay the course.
The people of South Africa were angry, and rightly so. They had turned to violence because they believed it was their only defense and only opportunity for freedom. After Mandela's release from prison, he publicly denounced violence and stated that they would "never win a war, but they could win an election." He asked the people of South Africa to stop fighting and to seek peace. Mandela had been in prison for 27 years; the people of South Africa had been fighting for 27 years; the people believed that they had a right not only to freedom but to revenge.
When Mandela went to prison, it was what the people expected. When Mandela asked them to stop fighting and to seek peace, that was not what the people expected. It was a very bold move, but Mandela continued to stay the course, because what Mandela was seeking (and always had been) was freedom, and revenge was not a route to freedom.
Another example. This past week a leader of a large non-profit with a national and international platform made a bold move, then two days later rescinded that bold move. Of course there were numerous factors involved in this decision, many of which I'm certainly not aware. The initial decision resulted in upheaval in one direction, the decision to rescind then created upheaval in the other direction. It has consequently become a no-win situation with constituents upset on all sides. I've pondered this scenario every day this week, asking myself, what lessons in leadership can be gleaned from this somewhat chaotic and unfortunate situation. Here are a few of my thoughts.
- Bold moves are good; they demonstrate strong leadership.
- Bold moves will have opponents. Don’t expect everyone to enthusiastically support the decision.
- If you're going to make a bold move, be certain of that decision. Ask enough questions from enough people so you can anticipate the aftershock of that decision so you'll be prepared to respond and not react.
- If you're going to make a bold move, be prepared to stay the course. As Nelson Mandela said, "When the water starts boiling it is foolish to turn off the heat."
I would guess that most leaders make less than a handful of bold moves in their careers. So select them carefully, judiciously, and courageously. Effective leaders make bold moves and they stay the course, because it's a long walk to freedom.