The Hidden Leader

As some of you may be aware, the results of the 2021 LIFT Leadership Index were released at the start of this month. In addition to the fundamental LIFT question of what are the areas of personal leadership that are most in need of improvement in Ireland (the top 3 answers were Honesty, Accountability and Respect by the way), this year we additionally asked where people felt that the best leadership was currently being shown in Ireland.

This was a new question for us. We wanted to get a sense of the sectors of Irish society where leadership was perceived to be most (and least) in evidence. We had not expected the results to be quite so emphatic. Out of the 1000 respondents who ranked the 8 sectors, almost half chose the Health Sector as being the sector demonstrating the best leadership in Ireland over the past year and a huge 84% put that sector into their top 4.

At the other end of the 2021 LIFT Leadership Index, Faith-based groups received the lowest rating, with only 4% believing that the sector was ‘leading the way’. Politicians and representative bodies like unions fared almost as badly.

I have to admit that while not necessarily surprised, I was certainly fascinated by these results. Surely religious bodies, politicians and representative unions are exactly where we should expect leadership to be most evident. Is leading not central to why they exist? Why was it that in 2020/21 the health sector was perceived as providing so much better an example of leadership?

I think that the word ‘example’ is important here. We all know that 2020 was a year of crisis. When COVID first hit, none of us knew what it would mean. We saw pictures from around the world, of hospitals stretched to their limits and medical staff working under the most difficult of conditions. We had nightly reports from front-line doctors and nurses; the World Health Organisation; the Chief Medical Officer; and the head of the HSE. Even as the news became more and more grim, we saw these people giving us the unvarnished truth and treating us as adults, while at the same time, often putting themselves at personal risk. They did not shirk their responsibilities even when things were at their hardest. This was the example that they gave us – personal accountability; honesty; integrity; courage.

A few years ago I was watching the film Hacksaw Ridge with my 4 children. For anyone who hasn’t seen it, it is a film about military medic Desmond Doss, who was a conscientious objector during the Second World War. Doss refused to carry a rifle into battle but wanted to help in the war effort. He was ridiculed for his views and considered worthless in battle. He was belittled by his superior officers, sidelined by his fellow soldiers and military top brass tried on numerous occasions to get him thrown out of the army. But Doss persevered.

In 1945, his battalion was part of the fight to take the Japanese island of Okinawa. They were battling on the Maeda Escarpment (the Hacksaw Ridge of the film’s title), a sheer 400-foot cliff that was heavily defended by enemy troops. Things went badly for Doss’s battalion, with huge numbers of men being killed or injured as they scaled the cliff. A retreat was ordered and wounded men were left to fend for themselves. Doss however, refused to leave.

In the face of non-stop machine gun fire, he ran from one wounded comrade to another, giving emergency aid where he could, and carrying the wounded to the edge of the cliff where he then lowered them down the 400 feet by rope, one by one. He did this on his own, throughout the night, saving 75 comrades by morning time. Eventually some of his fellow soldiers saw what he was doing, followed his lead and started to help in the rescue effort.

At the end of the film I asked my kids what they thought. All of them really loved it, but, they wondered, where were the Generals when Doss was rescuing the men? That is the question, I thought – where were the leaders?

Maybe there’s a parallel here with the LIFT Leadership Index results; the health sector throughout 2020 were like Desmond Doss. They did what was required because it was the right thing to do, while others perhaps said one thing but did another (attending large funerals and other gatherings for example). They led day-in and day-out through the example that they gave us, of integrity, competence, courage and determination. In many ways the Health Sector represents all of our frontline workers.

From all of us in LIFT Ireland, ‘Thank You’ for your leadership.

Read the results of the LIFT Leadership Index which was featured in RTE below. Our annual index displays our research into the areas of leadership which are most important to Irish people. It is a pulse point on the values that matter to Ireland.

LIFT Leadership Index in RTE