FEATURED BLOG: Captain Larry Brudnicki

Leadership in Turbulent Times

Are we currently experiencing turbulent times? What does that even mean? I don’t think it matters which dictionary we consult to find a definition.

Turbulent ( tûr′byə-lənt ) adjective

Involving sudden changes, arguments, or violence. (Cambridge)
Characterized by agitation or tumult, (Merriam-Webster)
Causing unrest, violence, or disturbance

All we have to do is turn on the 6 o’clock news to get a front row seat.

Do we look toward the top level of government in Washington, DC to find the leadership we need to succeed in turbulent times?

Regardless of anyone’s personal opinions about former President Trump and President Biden, it is a fact that one was impeached and is facing 91 felony counts. The other is the subject of an impeachment inquiry. Both are being investigated for mishandling classified material. This is one of the most contentious issues today. Some people believe one belongs in jail, and other people believe that the other one belongs in a nursing home. You are unlikely to convince either group to change their mind no matter how persuasive you think you are..

Russia invaded Ukraine almost two years ago and the fighting continues. Putin has expressed his intent to reunite the Soviet Union. He will have to annex several NATO nations in order to accomplish his goal. If Russia invades a NATO country that will drag the US into a war with Russia.

China is becoming more aggressive in the South China Sea. They are turning rocks that were awash during low tide into islands with the intent of stringing them together to claim the entire South China Sea as their territory. China is sending ships and aircraft across the Taiwan Strait as a show of force. The US doesn’t recognize Taiwan as an independent state, but we have promised to defend them which could involve us in a war with China.

Last year we had the highest inflation rate since 1981 along with the highest interest rates in the same period. The inflation rate is down this year, but that doesn’t mean that prices are declining; they are continuing to go up but at a slower rate.

Our national debt of $33 trillion is 120% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). According to the World Bank, countries with a debt-to-GDP ratio above 77% for a prolonged period experience significant slowdowns in economic growth. The US debt-to-GDP ratio has been above 77% since 2009.

Israel was attacked on October 7, 2023, and is now at war with the Iran backed Hamas organization in Gaza which has been classified as a terrorist organization by many nations including the US. We know that all Palestinians are not members of Hamas which causes some people to have sympathy for them while others don’t see any distinction.

Before I traveled to Israel and Palestine I had my perceptions of the relationship between Israel and Palestine. After spending some time there, my perceptions evaporated into reality. The part of Palestine called the West Bank is under the military occupation of Israel. That’s hard to ignore when you see soldiers carrying automatic weapons on street corners.

Did the violence start on October 7, 2023, or did it start with the 1967 war when Israel took control of the West Bank? Or maybe it was when the UN gave part of Palestine to Israel so they could have a homeland after the horrors experienced by the Jewish people during the late 1930s and the 1940s in Europe. Did it start when the British abandoned their colonial interest in Palestine and departed as chaos unfolded in the early twentieth century? Or did it really start over 3,000 years ago when the Assyrian Empire displaced the Kingdom of Israel? There is no doubt that the turbulence in that region has an impact on our daily life in the US, and the situation is far more complex that a simple sound bite on the 6 o’clock news.

Today you are accused of being Anti-Semitic if you don’t support Israel, and Islamophobic if you do. There seems to be no middle ground.

The Speaker of the House was ousted from his job for the first time in the history of our country shortly after Congress passed a last-minute short-term funding bill that runs out soon. Congress will have to try again to come to some agreement on either another short-term funding bill or an actual budget. The credit rating of the US is at stake along with unfunded programs if there is no timely resolution.

Is climate change caused by human activity, the natural phenomena of the universe, or both? Are electric vehicles the answer, or are the lithium batteries in the electric vehicles (EVs) that caused a fire on a car carrier which resulted in the ship sinking a risk not worth taking.

Is an EV “green” if it gets its electricity from a coal fired plant? Are wind turbine generators “green” if the giant blades can’t be recycled? How many tons of earth must be disturbed to find all the metals we need for EV batteries. Does additional mining and less reliance on carbon-based fuels make our country “greener” or less “green?” Are we putting the cart before the horse by trying to rush to alternative energy sources before we have an electric grid that can sustain them?

Nuclear power is “green” but has the potential for a disaster if the redundant safety systems fail. Some people are concerned about what do we do with the nuclear waste. Others say that the uranium was radiating before we removed it from the ground and no one was concerned about it, so why should they be concerned when we dispose of it by putting it back in the ground.

I’ve always wondered why we don’t use underwater ocean currents turning a turbine to produce electricity. Those currents are fairly constant and are not dependent on the sun or the wind. As a bonus, they exist 24 hours a day.

You are affected by the UAW strike against the big automobile manufacturers if you want to buy a new American made car. The Screen Actors Guild affects you if you are looking for new content. There’s no problem if you like reruns.

Do guns kill people or do people kill people? Why are school kids so angry that they want to kill their classmates? Why do we have a homeless crisis that we didn’t have or didn’t notice 10 years ago? Is abortion a woman’s right or does the government have the right to regulate or ban it?

At least both political parties now agree that we have an immigration crisis although they are about as far apart on the solution as they could possibly be. I have a friend that has a green card. I was surprised that green cards are actually blue. Why aren’t they called blue cards. Sorry, I digress. We hear about the 2 to 3 million immigrants coming into the US every year lately without proper documentation, but the news media never tells us that last year over one million immigrants came into the US legally. Why?

Student loan payments have been suspended for the last 3 ½ years, but are about to resume. The media constantly tells us about the debt load of students but fails to tell us that the average college graduate earns approximately $1 million more than a non-graduate over their life time. People who never took out college loans or paid them off are angry that their tax dollars will bail out those with student loans. Student loan borrowers are angry because they were promised debt relief but might not receive it.

I could go on, but I think that if you bring up any one of these topics with family and friends at your Holiday dinner, you will undoubtedly end up in a lively debate.

It seems obvious that it would be advantageous to have someone to lead us through these turbulent times. So, what exactly, is the definition of “leadership?”

Leadership (le’der-ship) noun
The capacity to lead.

I don’t know about you, but I always find it annoying when the definition of a word contains the word itself.

Leader (le’der) noun
One who leads or guides
One who is charge of in command of others
One who heads a political party or organization

I certainly understand the concept of “One who is in charge or command of others.” My first assignment after graduating from the Coast Guard Academy was aboard a ship. My Commanding Officer had a sign behind his desk that said, “The Captain’s word is law!” I saw that every time I was summoned to his cabin. Later in my career I had the privilege of commanding four different classes of Coast Guard ships.

Every commanding officer is painfully aware that sign on Harry Truman’s desk was right. “The buck stops here.” Everyone who has ever served in the military understands that someone is always in charge. We used to joke about the military version of the golden rule: The one with the most gold makes the rules.

That doesn’t mean that just because there is clearly an identifiable person in charge that everything runs smoothly. There have been many cases of commanding officers being removed from their positions “due to a loss of confidence in their ability to command.” The military represents less than 0.4% of the US population. What about the other 99.6% of the population?

In the civilian world the “one who is charge” is not as well defined. And when it comes to our government in the US, we have three equal branches which suggests that no ONE is in charge. The President can’t pass a law without Congress, although every presidential candidate at a debate seems to think that they can. “If elected, I promise to…” Fill in the blank with whatever interests you most. Congress, however, can pass a law without the President. It takes a two-thirds majority of congress to override a presidential veto. With the extreme partisanship in Washington these days, a president can feel confident that the veto will stand. The Supreme Court can overrule the President and Congress, and often does.

In the corporate world, who is in charge? The Board of Directors, the CEO, corporate activists, the stockholders, the customers, the Union, or the invisible hand of the “market?”

You can’t solve a problem until you define it, but defining it doesn’t guarantee a solution. If this were a children’s fairy tale, the princess would kiss the frog and he would turn into a benevolent prince who would lead the kingdom out of chaos and into a land with rainbows, unicorns, and world peace.

We don’t live in fairytale land, so who, then, will lead us through the turbulent times? It is certainly not one person because no one is in charge of the world, our country, corporation, or organization. There are many competing interests and each one believes that they alone have the one and only answer.

None of the most controversial issues we are facing today can be summed up in a simple slogan that fits nicely on a sign at a protest rally despite their ubiquity. They are very complex with no “one-size fits all” type of solution.

I am sorry to disappoint you, but there is no one coming down from the mountain top who will lead us through these turbulent times. It is up to you and me. We must provide the leadership needed to calm the turbulence.

I learned a long time ago that it does no good to try to make something more efficient, if we shouldn’t be doing it. Maybe there was a good reason to do it long ago, but if the world has changed and made something obsolete, then it is time to abandon it or replace it with something that is relevant today.

There are motivational posters everywhere that say, “Be the change you want to see.”

Just because it is on a poster doesn’t mean that it isn’t right, but it lacks specificity.

Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1972) wrote the Serenity Prayer in the 1930s, but it wasn’t published until 1951. As it gained popularity it was adopted by the twelve-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous.

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Even if you have never had an alcoholic drink in your life and never will, this is good advice. In your leadership quest to calm the turbulence surrounding you, you will not be able to convince everyone who has an extreme view to become an advocate of the opposite view, but that doesn’t mean that you should abandon your quest just because you will never enjoy success one hundred percent of the time. Major League Baseball players can earn hundreds of millions of dollars with a batting average of 0.350. Success barely more than one third of the time while at bat is considered exceptional.

How do you begin your journey to be the calming voice in the middle of all the agitation, unrest, tumult, and violence surrounding you? The best place to start is by asking yourself good questions.

“Do I really understand both sides of the argument?” is a better question than the statement, “I have my opinions so don’t try to confuse me with facts.”

You can’t be sure that your opinion is a good one unless you can articulate the basis for the opposing view. If you are going to discuss one of the many controversial issues going on today, provide both sides of the argument with the pro and cons of both.

You don’t have to agree with the other person to understand how they think and why they have adopted their position on the subject. But acknowledging what the other person believes is a good starting point for discussion. When it comes to your opinion, are you sure that you are basing it on relevant facts?

Think of it as a chess game. Average players think only of their next move. A good player thinks what they would do, if they were the opposition, to counter the move they are about to make before they move a chess piece. A great player considers what would the other person do, because they have studied all of their opponents previous games. If you engage in a conversation with someone about the most contentious issues we are experiencing today, the conversation will go much better if you approach it as a game of chess. You should know the basis for their argument and know your response well in advance. If there is no chance for a successful outcome, will this discussion make things better or worse?

Always remember that if you are going to provide the necessary leadership during turbulent times, your job is to be the calming influence in the situation. You must find a way to de-escalate instead of trying to always win the argument.

There is too much anger in our society today. “My way or the highway” is not the solution. Ask yourself how you can lead your sphere of influence to a compromise that can be accepted by everyone. Accept that you will not be able to do that one hundred percent of the time.

Captain Larry Brudnicki is the is the real-life Captain of the Coast Guard ship that performed two dramatic rescues during the worst storm in more than 100 years, which became known as “The Perfect Storm” and inspired the book that was on The New York Times best-seller list and the blockbuster movie. He tells a true story of leadership, teamwork, courage and risk management strategies that were responsible for the successful rescues of the crew of a sailboat and an Air National Guard H-60 helicopter during the worst storm in more than 100 years. Book an inspirational leadership speaker like Captain Larry Brudnicki as Speakers.com today!

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