Almost two hundred thirty-eight years ago, our forefathers sat in a hot room with closed windows arguing over the future of the thirteen colonies they represented.
For a while they had thought of reconciliation with their motherland. But over time it became clear that neither the King nor Parliament were interested in anything other than submission.
As one, these fifty-six men did what had not been done before them.
They outlined their grievances on paper, declared their independence, and signed their names so both King and Parliament would know who the traitors were.
The act was treason punishable by death.
Some of them did die.
Some were bankrupted. Many lost their homes and property. Some saw their wives and children taken and abused.
But none recanted.
All held firm.
The mass of a moment such as this can prove to be overwhelming.
Yet leadership – true character in action – can not succumb.
Leadership’s purpose is to defy the gravity of the situation.
To exert its own gravitational attraction; to rally and reinforce.
Through its own inherent, substantial mass.
Leadership is made to overcome the acceleration of adversity.
Whether by expectation – or – exhortation.
Influence infused with integrity.
A persistence punctuated by patience, yet pursued with passion.
A level of discernment divined by discipline.
On March 12, 1930, Mahatma Gandhi and several dozen of his followers set out – as one – from his ashram, at Sabermanti near Ahmedabad on a trek of some 240 miles to the coastal town of Dandi on the Arabian Sea .
There, Gandhi and his supporters were to defy British policy by simply making salt – an important staple of the Indian diet – from seawater.
All along the way, Gandhi addressed large crowds, and with each passing day an increasing number of people joined the salt “satyagraha” – Sanskrit for “truth force”. By the time they reached Dandi on April 5, 1930 Gandhi was at the head of a crowd of tens of thousands.
He had planned to work the salt flats on the beach, encrusted with crystallized sea salt at every high tide. But the police had forestalled him by crushing the salt deposits into the mud.
Nevertheless, Gandhi reached down and picked up a small lump of natural salt out of the mud– and – by his act, British law had been defied.
At Dandi, thousands more followed his lead, and in the coastal cities of Bombay and Karachi, Indian nationalists led crowds of citizens in making salt. Civil disobedience broke out all across India, soon involving millions of Indians. British authorities arrested more than 60,000 people. Gandhi himself was arrested but the momentum had forever changed. The truth force continued without him.
The mass of his leadership overwhelmed the British Empire.
Now, your challenges will likely never reach the magnitude of identifying yourself, in writing, as a traitor to the King. It is also unlikely that you will face arrest for the act of simply picking an encrusted piece of sea salt off of the beach.
But you will confront your own array of adversity.
It too, can seem of substantial mass.
And lacking due diligence, discernment and discipline, the perceptions of your moment can become distorted.
For you see, leadership is also first and foremost, choice.
The reality of the situation can become obfuscated by gross rationalization.
The treasured asset of risk willingly replaced by the relative safety of comfort.
Exchanging an opportunity for learning, growth and excellence for a pedestrian existence marked by the status quo.
Bold action curtailed and big picture plans aborted – all in avoidance of the onerous demands of committed, consistent effort.
Dissipating your dreams because it is just too hard and it takes too damn long.
Acquiescence allows the mass of a moment to intimidate you into inertia.
Unless you choose to be an irresistible force.
Moving the immovable.
It was June 4, 1989.
One day after the Chinese government’s violent crackdown on the Tiananmen protests.
The man stood in the middle of Chang’an Avenue, near Tiananmen Square, directly in the path of a column of approaching Type 59 tanks.
He wore a white shirt and black trousers, and held two shopping bags, one in each hand.
As the tanks came to a stop, the man gestured towards the tanks with his bags.
In response, the lead tank attempted to drive around the man, but the man repeatedly stepped into the path of the tank.
After repeatedly attempting to go around rather than crush the man, the lead tank stopped its engines, and the armored vehicles behind it seemed to follow suit.
There was a short pause.
The man and the tanks having reached a quiet, still impasse.