Leadership Spokane is committed to the truism that leaders always learn. As we celebrate a new year, it is always important to revisit one of the cardinal characteristics of being an effective leader. Leaders are resolute. Every new year, millions make resolutions to do better in the new year. For some this works, but for most, the resolutions fall by the wayside. This end of year leadership blog will not debate the merits of new year’s resolutions as my own track record with resolutions are spotty, but I will highlight how important it is that leaders must be resolute year round. A resolution by definition means a firm decision to do or not to do something. Without question, in all actions, effective leaders should certainly be firm. When boiling down leadership in my stump presentations, I speak about how critical it is for leaders voluntary choosing to lead, having vision and never quitting. An unwritten but vital corollary of these three core traits is that to move a team forward, leaders need to be firm and strong in their actions.
Recently, watching the Tom Hanks’ movie Bridge of Spies about the Francis Gary Powers spy trade during the height of the Cold War, I was impressed with the real life actions of attorney James Donovan to be resolute in following his convictions no matter the outcome. He agreed to defend Soviet spy Rudolf Abel in 1957 when many others refused. Not only did he mount a tenacious defense because he believed our Constitution demanded it, he argued the conviction of Abel all the way to the Supreme Court believing the search of evidence of Abel’s apartment was illegal. Donovan’s strength of conviction led to the preserving of Abel’s life (avoiding death penalty) and although losing his Supreme Court appeal, he earned the praise of Chief Justice Earl Warren and the "gratitude of the entire court" for his taking the case. It is difficult sixty years later to understand how much pressure came to bear on him as the anti-communism passions have long since abetted, but Donovan resisted society’s views, his family’s sentiments and even his bosses’ wishes in continuing to defend Abel during the height of these anti-Soviet feelings. He continued his vigorous defense of Abel not because he sympathized with his cause but because he believed in the Constitution and believed that we are a nation of laws and one of those cardinal laws provided for a fair trial of the accused.
His resolute behavior proved to be lifesaving five years later when he negotiated the exchange of US U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers for Rudolf Abel. Well documented in the movie Bridge of Spies, Donovan’s’ heroic efforts in Germany to negotiate the exchange, holding tough to his positions proved pivotal in moving the Soviet negotiators to see he wouldn’t budge on core principles. Indeed, against the wishes of his own US government, Donovan added the negotiation of wrongly imprisoned American student Frederic Pryor to the Powers-Abel negotiation, earning his freedom from the clutches of East Germany. Seeing it was the right thing to do, Donovan never shied away from both Soviet and East German negotiators arguing fervently that both Americans were to be released or Abel would not be exchanged.
Donovan’s convictions would be called for again by President Kennedy who asked him to help negotiate the release of a 1,000 Bay of Pigs political prisoners. Taking the same approach of being resolute as he did with the Abel case, he convinced the Cuban negotiators to release ALL the prisoner obtaining the freedom for 9,703 men, women or children instead of a meager 1,000. He earned the Defense Intelligence Medal for all his heroic work to free others…well deserved indeed.
So, this new year, leaders can certainly make new year’s resolutions if it helps their plans for 2017. But, what is most important is for leaders to remain firm in their convictions and actions for all 365 days of years. Leaders like James Donovan who have the courage and strength to follow their convictions can only go one direction in their actions—forward! Yes, in 2017, leaders must be resolute!
Courage consists not in hazarding without fear; but being resolutely minded in a just cause. ~ Plutarch