A virtuous mantle of leadership


Think of a historical figure that you admire, someone whom, if you had a time machine, you would like to go back and meet, to talk with. Are you thinking of someone?

Chances are, the person you thought of was someone who had to deal with adversity. If you think of several great leaders, you might observe that the greatest leaders seem to be those that face the greatest challenges.

So here’s the question: Do great leaders gravitate toward difficult situations, or do difficult situations create great leaders?

Here’s what William F. Halsey, the admiral who led the U.S. Pacific fleet in WWII, had to say about it: “There are no great men, only great challenges that ordinary men are forced by circumstances to meet.”

The greatest leaders became great because of the difficult circumstances they faced. Presidents, military commanders and leaders of social justice movements are revered as leaders precisely because they faced a difficult situation and made difficult, often unpleasant choices. If the task were easy and the decisions obvious, these people could never have demonstrated their leadership skills, and they would have never been recognized as leaders.

So what does this mean for us in our everyday lives? Should we shy away from problems, or should we consider them a gift, an opportunity to lead, an example of trust given to us by others? I don’t like trouble, but sometimes it helps me feel better to remember that difficult situations provide an opportunity for decision-making that can set things moving in a better direction.

No doubt you are aware of the list of “seven deadly sins.” I believe that the difficulties we face often have their root in one or more of these. Aurelius Prudentius, the fourth-century Roman governor, proposed seven virtues as a guide in counteracting these evils. His list of seven virtues are: chastity (against lust), temperance (against gluttony), charity (against greed), diligence (against sloth), patience (against anger), kindness (against envy) and humility (against pride). Think again of that great leader, the one you’d like to meet. When they faced their greatest trials, did they follow one or more of the virtues? When I think of those I admire, the answer is yes.

At our organization, we work to provide electric power, equipment and services for the 17 local, member-owned electric cooperatives that own us. We strive to make decisions to help those 17 systems improve the welfare of the well over 1 million cooperative member-owners they serve. Of the many decisions we make every day, we don’t make them all perfectly, but we try to seek those virtuous ideals. That may seem like an overstatement coming from your electric utility, but because of our unique cooperative business model, we live it every day. We work for you and are grateful for the opportunity to help solve your greatest energy challenges. That’s the cooperative difference.

Duane Highley is president and CEO of Arkansas Electric Cooperatives, Inc., (AECI) and Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation (AECC). AECI, a statewide service co-op, and AECC, a wholesale power supply co-op, are owned by Arkansas’ 17 local electric distribution co-ops, which provide retail electric service to more than 1 million members.