I get excited when the 4th of July rolls around. In fact, this year, I decided to revisit two critical documents that always get me excited about our country: The Declaration of Independence and the “American Crisis” collection of pamphlets written by Thomas Paine.

You are likely familiar with the Declaration of Independence, but you may be less familiar with Paine’s articles. In them, he talks about the crisis of the time—the conflict we were having with England. Specifically, he was concerned that the American soldiers would not be motivated enough to continue to fight.

Many troops had been killed or taken prisoner, and the morale was low. Few believed that they could win the war and to make matters worse, many of the soldier’s enlistments were due to expire before Christmas. Demoralized, many patriots were inclined to leave the army when their commission ended.

As Paine wrote, if Americans did nothing, we would remain under the thumb of British tyranny. However, if we did something, we could forever impact the outcome. In his first “American Crisis” pamphlet, he wrote:

“THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

Those sentences were published on December 19, 1776, and within days, General Washington ordered it to be read to his troops. On December 25, Washington’s troops crossed the Delaware and won three battles over the next ten days marking a major turning point in the American Revolutionary War which ultimately led to bigger and better things.

A Modern-Day Crisis

More than 241 years ago, we stood at the precipice of a major crisis; we had a dejected, disengaged army of soldiers who were quickly losing the will and passion to fight. Paine’s articles served as a call to arms, igniting in Americans the belief that they had a responsibility to act and help us reach a better utopia.

As I revisited these texts, it struck me that we find ourselves in crisis yet again. However, this time, we have a leadership crisis.

Current events point to a sweeping leadership epidemic:

  • We have leaders that disempower, micromanage and control employees
  • We have businesses that engage in unethical, amoral and illegal behavior
  • We have powerful people abusing their positions to sexually harass, abuse and assault others
  • We have politicians that are being investigated, indicted and removed daily for committing egregious acts

Reading this short list, or watching the evening news, can feel overwhelming and you’re not alone. A recent survey by the World Economic Forum found that 86 percent of respondents believe we are suffering from a global leadership crisis. Leadership failure runs the gamut, from our personal choices to the choices made by business leaders, corporations, politicians, and religious leaders to, of course, international conflicts.

Fortunately, we also have amazing leaders! Selfless, authentic individuals who are committed to helping others, building world-class organizations and inspiring and coaching our next-generation of professionals.

Related Reading: Intentional Leadership and Monkey Bars: Will You Reach Forward?

So, what separates the great leaders from the not so great ones? Our inability to answer this question demonstrates that the leadership crisis is alive and growing stronger each day.

Fortunately, with any crisis comes the opportunity for significant change. Imagine, for a moment, the impact we could have if each of us elevated our leadership game? If we stepped into our leadership path more intentionally? If we resolved to be a little bit better tomorrow than we are today?

Before exploring how we can get there, I want to pull back the curtain and examine how we arrived at today’s tipping point.

The Makings of a Crisis

When I look at our leadership crisis, I think at the highest level there are three major causes of the crisis:

  1. We have lost our true north. Do we talk about our purpose in life? Our core values? Do we stand by our principles? Today, many put the means over integrity, party lines over principles, and our desires over consequences. In our complex world, we spend less time focusing on what is most important to us. We make decisions that are counter to our core values because the world seems too demanding and unforgiving to stay true to our inner compass.
  2. Compounding this problem is the fact that our world has become increasingly superficial. Many people spend more time watching reality television than the news; family dinner has been replaced with iPad time, and playing outdoors has become a thing of the past. We are losing sight of important things like relationships, communication, and morals.
  3. We are not preparing ourselves to be the leaders the world needs. We don’t educate ourselves on how to be a leader. We are not teaching leadership enough in our schools. We are not exploring leadership in college. I find it interesting that you can’t get a Ph.D. in leadership but receiving a doctoral in management is no problem.

We can certainly wait for society to catch up and rectify the leadership crisis. In many ways, we are one generation away from seeing true change as young talent enters our workforce and demands for a different construct. But why should we wait for change to take place 10-20 years from now? Why are we waiting for the Kindergartener to become a CEO?

We can make it our personal quest to step up and become a better leader. We can be the “summer soldier” or the “sunshine patriot” who assumes the responsibility to become a stronger, more effective leader.

Here’s how we can do it….

A Higher Degree of Leadership

To reach a higher level of leadership, consider the following:

  • Carry the Torch: Each of us can leave a legacy and contribute to constructing a better leadership paradigm. So, grab hold of the torch and understand the part you play. Recognize that transformative leadership is not the responsibility of someone else or the masses; it’s our personal choice.
  • Give Back: When you stand up and become a better leader, you inevitably give back to others. You start to invest in your team differently, impact your company’s culture and create more inclusive, collaborative environments.
  • Find the Quiet Moment: Allocate time to escape the noise and get clear on what is important to you; find your true north! In these quiet, unguarded moments, you will uncover your personal drivers that will support your leadership journey.

A Brighter Tomorrow

On Christmas morning in 1776, 2,400 soldiers—including future President James Monroe, future Justice of the United States John Marshall and future Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton—crossed the icy Delaware River in boats. It was a treacherous voyage as soldiers dodged giant icebergs and carefully avoided falling into the sub-degree water. Though the successful crossing and ensuing battles did not seem as momentous at the time, history shows they were the first in a series of steps that allowed us to win the Revolutionary War.

Now it’s our time. It’s our time to address the crisis at hand and to act. It’s our responsibility to start acting, behaving and leading in a way that forever changes the trajectory of the business world.

Who’s with me?