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Leadership Lessons—From our Nation’s Capitol

I’ve written about Washington, D.C., before in the past couple years. When my wife Mary Kay and I asked our 15-year old grandson what he wanted to do this summer to make memories with us, on top of his list was a trip to D.C. for the 4th of July.

Going to D.C. without a business reason was new. We knew that it would be busy in D.C. After all, more than 18 million domestic visitors came last year as well as over 1.5 million tourists from overseas.

The weekend’s weather brought torrential rains as well as hours of brilliant sun—often within hours of each other.

As we lined up with tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands, for the parade I was struck by not only the visitors from other countries, but also the immigrants in the parade. They included a Sikh float, one featuring those from Vietnam, another float representing Korea and another with Japanese Americans. These were immigrants who are now citizens. And, they showed as much emotion for America on Saturday as anyone who was born here. America has always been a melting pot of cultures and continues to become more multicultural.

I thought of the words mounted on a plaque on the Statue of Liberty—Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

The ONLY inscription on the actual Statue of Liberty is written on the tablet that she holds in her left hand. It reads: July 4, 1776.

As we watched the beautiful fireworks from the front of the Lincoln Memorial exploding high over the 555-foot high Washington Monument I appreciated the 65,000 shells used for the event. The fields were muddy and full of puddles from a day full of rain but it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm for the event.

A 19-foot high marble Lincoln sits in his 100-foot building with the words of his second inaugural speech on one wall next to him:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

The words of the Gettysburg Address are on the opposite wall:

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

These words really rang out to me as we viewed the Vietnam War veterans’ memorial. Though packed with visitors, there was an eerie quietness when walking past the carved names. A reverence for all those who died for our freedom.

When it was pouring rain, or when our feet were so tired from walking, we called Uber. Over the weekend we took about a half dozen Uber rides. Most of the drivers were immigrants, here for just a few years. One was on a waiting list for seven years to come to America. Seven years!

Barbar had only been in America for two years and was a university graduate, had a full time job and was driving for Uber for extra money for his family. He had three kids—twin girls and a 20-year old. One of the twins was getting her masters. Her sister was becoming a doctor. The youngest child was going to George Washington University.

I reflected back on the words I saw at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial:

Almighty God hath created the mind free. All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burdens are a departure from the plan of the holy Author of our religion. No man shall be compelled to frequent or support religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion. I know but one code of morality for men whether acting singly or collectively.

Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I thought of his words, and his monument, not far from Lincoln’s steps. His words ring true for all, including the Uber drivers we met who came to America to fulfill their dreams:

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

These are the leadership lessons I learned last week. Amazing, world-changing lessons.

On Sunday, we worshiped at the Washington National Cathedral. It took 83 years, and five different architects over the years, to complete this magnificent church. This is one of the most beautiful cathedrals that I’ve ever seen. It rivals many Mary Kay and I visited in Rome.

It has hosted three state funerals (Eisenhower, Reagan and Ford), one official burial service (Wilson), and seven memorial services for Presidents of the United States. Helen Keller is interred inside the church.

The Dean of the Cathedral gave the sermon and reminded everyone that as great as America may be, we are still working on getting better. His words reminded me that this country, regardless of all of the faults people find with it, is still one for which people from other countries will wait seven years for a visa. We allow freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom to achieve whatever it is you want to achieve.

There was a parishioners’ meeting after the service to develop plans to repair the $22 million in damage done to the cathedral from the earthquake a couple years ago.

This reminded me, as leaders, the unseen is going to happen … something we could have never imagined … and we have to develop a plan to move forward. That is just what great leaders do.

God Bless America and the things we continue to learn from our early leaders!

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