The Great War of 1914-18—it became the First World War only in tragic retrospect—was the seminal event of the 20th century. Its after-effects reverberate in our day.
One might argue that the 20th century actually began with the war in 1914, culminating with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
The Great War and its immediate aftermath (including the flu pandemic) consumed 37 million casualties.
As shocking as the absolute number is, consider what it would mean in today’s terms. In 1920 the population of the earth was approaching two billion; by contrast, today that number has passed seven billion. By a conservative accounting, that would translate into more than a hundred million casualties in our time.
At the outset of a new century, it may be useful to reflect upon leadership lessons that the Great War provides.
Just as the war affected aspects of life far beyond the battlefield, its leadership lessons have resonance far beyond wartime.
Corporate organizations are expected to have boards of directors. At least in theory, the boards are intended to provide strategic direction, to isolate trends and spot opportunities that might be missed among the non-stop demands of daily high performance.
Individuals and teams can benefit from similar advice on an ongoing basis.
I recently happened upon a fascinating example involving the great 20th-century actor: John Barrymore.
Where can we find them?
The premise–stated or unstated–is that there’s a leadership gap today.
Who can argue against the spectacular failures of leadership in large institutions? They range from the White House and Congress (whether in the hands of the Democrats or Republicans); to Wall Street and back around to Main Street; in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors (including religious institutions); around the world.
It’s easy–perhaps too easy–to find reason for disappointment. And yet… there is also reason for optimism.
It’s often said that these are among the worst of times for leadership… it’s also, arguably, the best of times.
This list is updated quarterly. Please send your suggestions of other inspiring 21st century leaders.