Perspectives: Extraordinary Leadership in Boston

April 23, 2013

By Steve Adubato, Ph.D. for NJTV

Extraordinary leadership comes in all shapes and sizes. Leadership also comes in the form of heroism and bravery, which we saw in spades this past week at the Boston Marathon.

People often talk about leadership in the context of corporate or organizational life. They think of it in very business-like settings where strategic decisions are made after much planning and consideration. But sometimes, extraordinary leadership happens on the spur of the moment. People, regardless of their title or position, are called into service. They step up. They put themselves in harm’s way or the line of fire. Often they are first responders—firefighters, police, EMTs, nurses, doctors, and veterans who have returned from war. But sometimes they are just civilians who amazingly, instead of running away from the danger, go directly toward it. It happened on 9/11. It happened with the teachers who protected their students in Newtown, CT. And yes, it happened at the Boston Marathon.

This past week I conducted a leadership seminar at a regional hospital and asked the group of professionals if they could relate to the type of courageous leadership we all saw in Boston this week. One ER nurse leader shared an amazing story of a firefighter who was experiencing cardiac distress. Knowing he was in serious trouble, her heart was pounding and she was afraid she would lose him. But she remained calm, gently talking to the firefighter the entire time, listening to him and telling him that he was in good hands. But his condition worsened and despite their heroic and best efforts, the doctors and nurses were unable to save him.

The nurse leader then had to step up, as she had done so many times before, and console and share the tragic news with the firefighter’s longtime girlfriend (they had a two-year-old son together), as well as with the 15 firefighters who gathered in the ER and were there to show their support. She stayed as long as she could with the firefighter’s loved ones and colleagues, until another trauma case required her attention.

When I asked her in the seminar how she dealt with her own fear and anxiety under these conditions, she responded, “I’m not sure what it is, but you realize that no matter what you are feeling in that situation, you have a responsibility to do something that is bigger than you—to help someone else.” So there it is. THAT’S extraordinary leadership. That’s what great nurse leaders do. That’s what extraordinary first responders do. That’s what those courageous and brave heroes at the Boston Marathon did this past week.

For those who think heroes are those who are not afraid of danger, think again. People who do such heroic things are often afraid for their own safety. They obviously could run the other way and save themselves, but they CHOOSE to go into potential danger (where another bomb could go off) because there is a responsibility and a cause that is greater than self-preservation. That is the essence of extraordinary and courageous leadership. Not many people possess it, and when we see it, we must recognize and celebrate it.

The world of business is filled with people sitting in leadership positions who run and hide when faced with difficult choices. They often do what is selfish and easy, putting others in the organization at risk while attempting to protect themselves by covering their own behind. Blaming others is a common tactic. This is the exact opposite of extraordinary and courageous leadership. We saw it with Enron, we see it too often on Wall Street, and frankly it happens every day in corporate America.

While we saw extraordinary leadership in Boston after those bombs went off, courage under fire also occurs under more ordinary conditions when leaders face tough choices and CHOOSE to do what is right and in the interest of others—in spite of their own fears.

Write to me at with an example of heroic and courageous leadership.