My father worked in politics with many great leaders. I also had the opportunity to speak, and work with many great communicators and entrepreneurs. It’s appropriate for most people to admire accomplished leaders… but on the inside, they also get envious. They wish they could be like them.
Remember the old adage — be careful what you wish for.
I’ve noticed, and with few exceptions, that most great leaders or entrepreneurs experience some major challenge early on in life that forces them to rise up against it. Reacting to this dilemma, they develop strengths most people never will
You know what they say… no pain, no gain.
I’ve also learned that many have dyslexia, ADD or even bipolar disorder. These challenges cause them to learn differently and to see things differently as well.
Psychologists speculate that non-depressed individuals usually feel they have more control of the world around them. While the depressed have the perception that they don’t have control of everything and can then be more flexible and pragmatic.
Being an entrepreneur or a great leader can take you down a very lonely path.
You don’t have many peers with which to socialize and often, don’t have any. You’re typically swimming against the current like a salmon moving upstream. The leader role takes a great level of commitment and you end up not having many opportunities to be with family and friends like most of us do…
Studies in Leadership
In the show Homeland, Carrie (played by Claire Danes) is severely bipolar. But she’s the top agent that solves all of the biggest cases. Someone who is bipolar experiences more than the average person by moving rapidly from highs to lows.
The show depicts that the dramatic mood swings she experiences are isolating and have placed her on a painful and lonely path. Carrie isn’t well understood by her peers despite the fact that she usually breaks open the damn case.
Keeping to the bipolar disorder parallel, how much would the typical business learn and change if it went through 10 booms and busts in 10 years instead of just one?
Can we learn more about our economy by looking more at our leaders?
I recently watched an incredibly interesting documentary on the Roosevelt family as they showcased the true-life challenges they faced. As a child, Teddy was a sickly child and almost died from an asthma attack. It’s hard to believe because of his robust nature as an avid outdoorsman and hunter… as well as a bold leader.
FDR not only had polio but he also suffered from depression and frequently isolated himself because of his workaholic nature. Yet he led our nation through a depression and a World War. After his death, his wife Eleanor went on to great achievements yet behind the scenes, she too suffered from depression.
Just days before watching this documentary, I heard about Robin Williams’ suicide and then Joan Rivers’ accidental death. Two talented celebrities — Williams was a great comedian and actor and Rivers was one of the top female comedians in history.
Both battled depression their entire lives and despite of it… were incredibly successful. Williams was also plagued with drug and alcohol addiction and Rivers was an intensely busy workaholic, even at 81.
Then I recalled a special I watched on Abraham Lincoln. No one had to tell me he was depressed. He’s perhaps the most depressing looking leader I’ve ever seen in history. He was treated for melancholia and was even placed on suicide watch during his presidency. After Lincoln’s assassination, his wife Mary sank into a deep depression and eventually ended up being committed to an insane asylum.
Look at Winston Churchill… another leader who was depressed and a heavy drinker. He’s said to have called his depression his “black dog” that followed him around. Churchill even avoided ledges and train platforms. He’s reputed to have said that you never know when a whim will overtake your sense of self-preservation. Yet his contributions to the political history of Great Britain are huge.
Depression is perhaps the most intolerable of emotional afflictions and if you can conquer that, you can probably conquer pretty much anything. But it can certainly prove to be a strong motivator that will get you off your ass to do something.
I was talking to one of the best speakers in his field of sales training and he told me that he had learned that he was inclined to depression. He found that working and being constantly engaged was the best and healthiest antidote for it.
Success Through Hardship
I realized through all of this that the underlying common thread in all of these leaders and successful individuals is the presence of depression… and it all fit together.
So here’s my first insight… if there weren’t a small percentage of depressed and otherwise so-called “afflicted” people in society; we wouldn’t have the innovation and leadership that has driven our remarkable progress, especially over the last few hundred years.
We should appreciate such people for the internal battles they have to fight, not just the external ones they tend to win. But you may want to think twice about envying them and wanting to trade places.
I don’t like calling things like depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, etc… “diseases” or “afflictions”. I think that we should learn to look at and work with people simply in terms of their strengths and weaknesses.
As Peter Drucker said: “Great people have great weaknesses.” But they obviously have great strengths as well. Everyone should learn to focus on their strengths and to minimize, or offset, the weaknesses where possible. If you’re depressed and want to address it, it’s better to be a workaholic than an alcoholic.
My second insight is that it’s the same concept when you look at the economy. I’ve always said that the winter season, like the Great Depression, is the most challenging. But it is also the most opportune and powerful.
We’ve witnessed the most radical innovations during harsh depressions in our economy. We’ve created new arenas for growth that last for decades while simultaneously, great leaders create new political directions for the nation.
Innovations such as computers, TVs, automated appliances, jet engines and the A-bomb came out of the last winter season… and autos, electricity and phones in the one before that.
That said, I don’t see great leaders around today.
Our economist and politicians simply don’t tell the truth about our debt and financial leverage. They’re not making the hard decisions that will turn our economy around for the long term and they’re taking the easy way out.
But mark my words, we will see some great leaders and radical innovations emerge in the next decade when we finally settle into harsh deleveraging and a depression that is, unfortunately, inevitable. And it will be the most painful of our lifetime.
Greatness comes out of facing great challenges but not by taking economic medication like endless money printing.
We really have become comfortably numb. But that’s about to change, and most likely… drastically.
Is This Bull Market Dead On Arrival?
I’m a medical school dropout.
And since I vowed not to waste that $40,000 I spent to realize that I actually didn’t want to be a doctor…