Where ethics dominate, character usually suffers and leadership fades.

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We lack leadership today.

Few people will say this.  Indeed, I find virtually no one who says this.

It takes character to lead.  Character develops from life experiences, its challenges, risks taken, errors made and admitted, amends made, humility gathered, wisdom acquired – maturity achieved.

Ethics displaces morality and virtue.  A virtuous and moral person does not need a rule book, an ethical code.  No, a virtuous and moral person does what is right, seeks not profit for himself or herself but rather to advance the welfare of others in each thing he or she undertakes.

How might we revive the qualities of character and leadership we once lived abundantly?

Be honest about who we are today.  Look at the unpleasant reality.  Give pause. Think: Do I wish to be like this?  Do I wish to leave my sons and daughters what I see?  Do I wish my grandchildren to have lost what we once were?

Then, ask: What is it that we once were?  Where did we learn our prior ways? What were we taught that made the difference in us?  In our land?  Our culture?

See what is lasting in virtue.  In wisdom.  The root of courage.  The strength of sacrifice.  And of suffering.  The benefits of selflessness.

Learn from the ancient masters.  Read them.  Live by their words.  Identify the few institutions that teach character and see how they foster leadership.  Emulate them.

When Navy carrier pilot Admiral James Stockdale was drifting to the ground on a parachute after being shot down over North Vietnam he thought of the words of the Stoic philosopher Epictetus and said to himself: “Epictetus, here I come.”

He knew his long incarceration as a POW would demand the strength and wisdom of the words of an ancient.  He knew character was in play – daily, in weeks upon weeks of isolation, in beatings and torture, and endless interrogations and in the demands of leadership placed on him as one who led.

Learn from Jim Stockdale.  His situation is our situation.

It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.