leaders in history

Several weeks ago I attended a leadership skills workshop in Washington D.C. You may expect an event like this to commence with trust falls and chess games, but instead, we did something valuable and eye opening.

We took a bus to 100 Raoul Wallenberg Place and toured the Holocaust Museum.

When you walk in, you’re handed an identity card. I was a Jewish Dad. The setting is gloomy, almost like a prison. There’s exposed mesh wire and iron.

As you walk through, you read statistics like:


  • 11 million people were killed during the Holocaust—1.1 million were children.
  • One- third of all Jewish people alive at that time were murdered in the Holocaust.
  • 8.5 million people identified as Nazis at the height of the party’s power.


Then the statistics became real. You see a hall of shoes. The shoes’ owners were killed in gas chambers.

You walk in boxcars. Jews and other minority groups were transported in these compact and rickety trains to concentration camps. Many died on the way because they were packed so tightly they suffocated.

You turn the corner into a new hallway. You see a sepia-toned photograph of the person who led this regime of terror, Adolph Hitler. He’s quoted as saying, “By the skillful and sustained use of propaganda, one can make a people see even heaven as hell or an extremely wretched life as paradise.”

Hitler came to power by manipulating people and praying on his countrymen’s vulnerabilities. Hitler exemplifies the nasty side of leadership.

We must learn from history so that we do not repeat it. Here are some leadership skills I took away from my visit at the Holocaust Museum.


  • Evaluate yourself. The number one trait of all great leaders is humility. Take your role as a people-builder seriously by striving for continual improvement. Look in the mirror. Is there something you could do better? Do it.


  • Speak the truth. If you must mask your intentions or fluff up your delivery, you’re most likely overcompensating or covering up deceit. Be genuine and upfront with your agenda and values. Give those following your lead the opportunity to know whom they’re following.


  • Walk the walk. Only delegate tasks you’re willing to do yourself. Instructing someone else to do your dirty work does not relieve you of associated shame or responsibility.


  • Stand up. It is all of our responsibilities to keep leaders in check. Leadership is a privilege, not a right or a title. If you see leadership being abused, do something. Despite your fears, nerves or potential failure, step up and become a leader yourself.


Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said: “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

The anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation is January 27th. The UN has designated it, International Holocaust Remembrance Day. We must all remember the terrors that occurred not so long ago, so that they never happen again.

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” –Anne Frank


Originally published in The Tennessean.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/archetypefotografie/3821120232/”>Vincent_AF</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>