Showing Up


One of the most powerful acts of leadership is often the easiest to overlook:  the decision to remain standing.  As my obsession with Lincoln continues, I find that I’m most moved by his ability to simply endure.  Lincoln revealed a pattern of political brilliance, but he often chose the wrong spaces on the moral and military chessboard.  Those missteps arguably delayed a Union victory and weakened the movement to end slavery.

But the man showed up.  He showed up even when he was crippled by despair, even on days when his army was routed, his soldiers were sacrificed by mediocre generals, his country was burning, his children were dying, his wife was descending into madness, his political future was doomed, his life was threatened (Booth was not the first one to take a shot at him), and his God had seemingly forsaken him.

Lincoln made it into the office. Sometimes it was on the emotional equivalent of his hands and knees, but he managed to get back up, and that choice saved the fact and idea of America.  For all the talk of his strategic mind and silver tongue, Lincoln’s daily decision to stand may have been the one that made the difference.

These aren’t easy times.  The burden of leadership is weighing heavily on many people right now.  There are countless reasons to abandon the task, to retreat to a fetal position and fend for yourself.  Lincoln gives us a model for resisting that call. He challenges us to simply show up. On many days that will be enough.

2 Responses to Showing Up

  1. Jack Mackey says:

    Your blog about Lincoln reminded me of an event I attended many years ago for Neil Poindexter. Neil was loved by his colleagues (like me), his wife and 3 grown daughters, and his huge circle of friends in Kansas City. Neil had been a local NPR host and was actively involved in the African American church community – in fact, ministers from eight church’s were in attendance at this event to honor Neil. It was his funeral.

    Neil died in a head-on car collision at the age of 55.

    It was a brutal and devastating blow to his family. When I showed up for his “Homegoing” (not funeral, after all) I felt powerless to express any words that could provide comfort to his family who were victims of such a cruel fate. There was no comfort to be had. Not for Neil’s family. Not even for his friends and colleagues.

    Then, as we all wept in shock and sadness at a senseless tragedy, the choir, and Neil’s family, sung an amazing hymn that expressed the truth in that moment: Sometimes, All You Can Do is Stand.

    And as I sung along with a thousand people packed in that church, I held my head a little higher. For the first time, I understood that simply enduring emotional pain, without being able to find any words of comfort or rationalization, is not a shortcoming. It is a victory of the human spirit.

  2. Anne Morriss says:

    That’s a powerful story — thank you for sharing it.

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