Where’s the Leadership?

The pandemic and racial unrest of 2020 has been a perfect opportunity for someone to step into the leadership role to lead the way in solving the significant problems.

As I look at the situation, I have one haunting question, “Where are the leaders?”  Asked another way, “Where are those leaders who are willing to solve the significant problems that create so much pain?”

Unfortunately, the racial issues stretch back centuries. What will it take to solve this problem? At the same time, the United States is suffering a second wave of the COVID19 while most every other country is remedying the problem. What will it take?  

As an executive coach, author, and podcast host, my mission in Murfield Coaching is to help solve significant and often persistent problems. I help people think bigger and reach higher to do what they may not have thought possible. Part of that work requires asking the difficult and uncomfortable question. Today I ask that question about the pandemic and racial unrest, “Where is the leadership?” and “What can you do to step into that leadership?”  

Defining Leadership

Leadership is defined many ways by many different people from very different perspectives. I won’t recite the diversity of views but challenge us to think bigger about leadership. Leadership should be about bringing a group of people together to solve significant problems. That means leadership must be compassionate, noticing the pain, feeling for those affected from their perspective, thinking strategically, and taking the necessary action to solve the problem. .

Notice Their Pain

Pain is the presence of raw, throbbing hurt. It is the trauma of losing a loved one or being violated. Pain is the debilitating pain of being denied what is rightfully yours. Pain is being prevented from possessing what others have and you have worked for. Pain is the pandemic, the fear of catching the virus, or losing your life. It is goes beyond fear into the reality of losing your job or business. The pain may be the potential of economic disaster.

Meanwhile, the racial tension is the reality of persistent discrimination and empty promises. That pain is the injustice of prejudice and bigotry on both the personal and structural levels. Leadership begins with noticing those pains. Leadership is also noticing the extent of that pain. Racial prejudice has persisted for centuries with occasional promises that are largely left unfulfilled. Notice the pain and the effects. Notice the pain in their personal perspectives but also in the cultural limitations. That pain is often the source of missed opportunities that could have been used to make our neighborhoods, cities, and nation stronger. Instead, that pain lead to destroyed lives, damaged communities, and riots in the streets.  

As we will see later, there are opportunities to become disruptive leaders in noticing a significant problem that is not being addressed. If you want to become a disruptive leader, notice the pain that is not being addressed. Notice what the people in leadership positions (I won’t call them leaders if they are not solving the problems) are not noticing or are dismissing. Notice who and how many are hurting. Notice how that is negatively affecting their lives and those around them. But also notice how that pain is limiting the success of private enterprise, our communities, and ultimately our nation. Take the time to notice the extent of the pain.

My wife and I contend that compassion is the best business strategy because it unleashes the ultimate performance, production, and profits. While others claim it is an unnecessary expense, we detail how you can actually calculate the bottom line improvements in The ROI of Compassion. We also show how compassion is the key element in creating an engaged team in,   Leading with the Power of Compassion. I argue that individuals and companies Make More Money in Tough Times when they shift to asking, “How Can I Help You?”  Compassion works to solve significant problems. That is a fact not just our opinion. It starts by being willing to notice the pain of others.

  • Are you noticing the pain of others?
  • Are you noticing the extent of that pain?
  • Are you noticing how much that is harming our organizations and communities?
  • Can anyone be a leader if they don’t notice the pain of persistent problems?
  • Can a company, culture or nation thrive if those in leadership positions don’t notice the significant problems?

As I look at the current situation, I have to wonder if our elected officials and people in organizational leadership positions are even noticing the problems. Where is the leadership that notices the pain?

Feel Their Pain

Second, leadership is feeling that pain from the perspective of that hurting person. Leadership is getting out of our own perspective and getting inside the skin of other person where we feel what they are feeling. Noticing plus feeling equals empathy. Noticing but merely feeling from one’s own perspective amounts to an outside-in approach that is called sympathy. Sympathy is nice but limited and is often ineffective in solving the problem.

For example, if someone loses their dog, even a selfish cad can notice. It is also easy to show sympathy, if you have ever had a dog. But notice what you are likely to say, “I’m so sorry for you. I know that must hurt.” Sympathy notices the pain but injects our perspective on their situation. Meanwhile empathy understands their pain from their perspective. Notice the difference.

The callous individual would say, “Hey, it’s just a dog.” That attitude is not going to solve any problem. Feeling sorry for them probably isn’t enough either because it doesn’t fully appreciate what that dog meant to him. Sympathy doesn’t grasp the complexity and significance of the problem. But empathy does. It looks deeper to understand why that dog meant so much to that person. Dig deeper and you may find that dog was the stable part of an uncertain world. That dog might have provided the unconditional love at the very time when your friend needed it the most. That dog might have been the best friend that person has ever had. When they couldn’t trust anyone else, their dog understood them and was there for them. Notice the difference between empathy and sympathy? Leaders exhibit empathy. Individuals who dismiss the pain or blame the hurting for their problems are not leaders.

Read that last sentence again. Individuals who dismiss the pain or blame the hurting for their problems are not leaders. Can they even be called “leaders?” Occupying a leadership position without feeling the pain of persistent problems is abdicating their leadership. It is missing an incredible opportunity to make the world a better place, advance the organization, and impact lives. That’s what leaders do.

As I look at the current situation, I have to ask, “Where is the empathetic leadership in the pandemic and racial unrest?”

Thinking Strategically

Third, leadership is strategically thinking through how to best solve that problem. Complex problems don’t have easy, flippant answers. Complex problems require disruptive thinking because the old, easy answers don’t work. Disruptive thinking purposely challenges assumptions of the past, shifts perspectives, and are willing to fail until they succeed. This type of revolutionary thinking is not contained by history, paradigm, position, status, or any other notion. To disrupt is to create such an improvement that those benefiting never want to return to the old pattern or results. Disruptive leaders have new, promising ideas. They won’t all work but at least they are thinking through the problem and strategically working to find a cure.

  • Can anyone be a leader if they are not even thinking about the problem?
  • Can they be a leader if they are not assembling a team and strategically analyzing the causes and working toward a solution?

Disruptive leadership is not simply emotional reaction or staying the course. Disruptive leaders begin by disrupting their own perspective first. They quickly notice how their previous habit of thinking is antiquated and must be changed to solve the significant problem. Disruptive thinking shatters assumptions because those assumptions no longer work. The sole focus of a disruptive leader is solving significant problems. The way that leaders will be successful is by thinking disruptively. The solution has to be well reasoned, experimental, and strategic. It is grounded in cause and effect, scientific approach, not a fanciful, opinionated, political guess. Solving significant problems is hard, diligent work focused on finding the answer. Can they be a leader if they are not thinking strategically?

Polio was a persistent problem that struck terror into parents in the early 1900’s. By 1910 polio epidemics crippled or killed millions globally each year. You can imagine the fear. You can also imagine the how philanthropists and scientists worked diligently to solve this persistent problem. You can also imagine the promise when two research groups developed polio vaccines in 1935. People lined up by the thousands to get the vaccine. Unfortunately, within the first year, the vaccines killed nine children. Now people not only feared polio but also getting the vaccine. About this time, a young scientist named Jonas Sauk sensed that pain and began work researching infectious diseases. To his delight, in 1955 he was successful. But how would he overcome the fears of people getting a vaccine? He injected himself and his family first. When the vaccine worked, something very impressive was revealed. He purposely failed to patent the idea. He could have become incredibly rich but instead chose to share his findings with the world. That’s a leader. He was empathetic, thought through the problem, and compassionately solved it.  

As I look at the current situation, I have to ask, “Where is the disruptive leadership in this pandemic and racial unrest?”

Delivering Results

Fourth, leadership makes the difference by delivering results. Sauk and his team didn’t just think through the problem, he worked until he produced a successful vaccine. Leadership doesn’t just occupy the position but delivers the desired results. Disruptive leadership purposely works to solve persistent problems that plague our businesses, nation, culture and our personal lives. Often disruptive leaders notice the same problems everyone does. It didn’t take a scientist to notice polio or feel the pain. The difference is that that disruptive leader chose to dedicate their life to solving it. They take the necessary action. They assemble a team (because nothing significant happens by yourself) and work feverishly toward their goal. Nothing short of solving the problem will satisfy them.

Medical professionals have led the way in the pandemic. Doctors and nurses have worked tirelessly to provide care for the sick and hurting. Business professionals have stepped up to pivot their businesses to make masks, shields, and ventilators. Restaurant owners have sacrificially provided meals for front line workers. That is leadership.

At the same time, political leaders have too often fallen short. They neglected the early warnings and even denied the ensuing pandemic. They blamed instead of collaborated. Maybe worst of all, too many divided instead of unified. At a time when people needed a strong voice guiding us to the right plan of action, there was confusion, silence, or blame. That’s not good enough. We needed leadership to tell us to wear masks, whether we wanted to or not. We needed strong voices that set aside political agendas solved the problem. Forget re-election and public posturing. Focus on doing what’s right. Move beyond pandering to your base and serve the people. That’s leadership.

Earn your paycheck from the people, solve their significant problems.

Occasionally a disruptive leader will notice something that no one else does. This is often because everyone else says, “That’s just the way it is.” Steve Jobs and Apple created the smart phone when others said, “That would be nice but I don’t think it can be done.” Candace Lightner noticed the problem of drunk driving when her 13 year old daughter was killed by a drunk driver. She wasn’t the first to notice the persistent problem. However, she was the first to work until she made significant success in changing the laws and public perspective about drunk driving. She formed Mothers Against Drunk Driving and saved thousands of lives.

In the same way, Joyal Mulheron noticed what many quickly dismissed. After losing a daughter, she felt pain and saw how so very few in the United States have the resources to cope following the death of a loved one. She noticed how policies and procedures were lacking at the governmental and corporate levels. She knew she couldn’t just let this pass. She had to do something. Bereavement care is broken in America. She founded Evermore and is working to change public and private policies. Corporations need to transform their policies to show that compassion is the best business practice. Meanwhile, government policies must be changed to ensure the hurting receive the help needed.  That is what leaders do. They take action. They notice what others dismiss. They feel the pain of those affected so much that they cannot walk away. They assemble a team and think through the problem. Then they work diligently until they solve the problem. If nothing else, when the problem is so significant that they cannot solve it within their lifetime, they start the action and structure it in such a way that others can continue in their footstep to eventually solve the problem.  

Disruptive leaders solve problems. Can we consider someone a leader if they don’t solve the problems? The simple and emphatic answer is, “No!” We cannot sit back and complain, we cannot blame and we definitely cannot remain silent. Disruptive leaders are compassionate individuals who work to solve significant problems.

Notice that individuals such as Lightener and Mulheron were not leaders of large corporations or elected officials. They were individuals that felt their personal pain, noticed the extent of the problem, and went to work solving that problem. There were no guarantees. They didn’t necessarily have the answer or the team but they knew it was something they had to do. That’s disruptive thinking. That’s disruptive leadership.


We cannot be silent about silence. Those that lead raise their voices to solve significant problems. It’s that simple. Anyone staying silent becomes part of the problem.

Yes, raising your voice comes with a cost. You will be verbally attacked and often socially ostracized from those that favor silence. But leaders work to solve significant problems. Staying silent has never made the critical difference.

Silence can be not speaking up but it can also mean not doing anything. Atrocities have been committed in part because otherwise good people did not believe it was their problem or didn’t have the courage to speak out. The problem comes when the bullies of the world intimidate those otherwise good people into silence. That is when significant action, often to the point of major wars that demand thousands of death to defeat the bully. Appeasement rarely works. Speaking out early and often makes a difference.

Raise Your Compassionate Voice

These turbulent times offer incredible opportunities for you to make the significant difference in solving persistent problems. Let me state it simply.

This is your opportunity to lead.

If you want to make more money, you must feel future customer’s pain. Understand what they want and need that they don’t yet have. Then work strategically with your team to design the products and services that alleviate that pain. Then deliver that product or service. Solve the problem. In the process you will pivot your business with nimble thinking and action. That is what is required in the New and Next Normal.

If you want to make a difference, notice, feel, think, and act to solve significant problems. Be the one who volunteers, steps forward, and accepts the challenges. Be the one who is quick to examine the assumptions and disrupt your own life.

Even if you simply want to be important, step into that disruptive leadership mindset. Don’t try to be a celebrity but earn the respect of others by doing what others don’t, won’t or can’t. Others will revere you when you deliver the results they want. But let me challenge you. Selfish motive will be exposed. Leading based on popular opinion rarely if ever works. However, leading to solve a pain experienced by a group is building raving, loyal fans. As Seth Godin says, that’s your tribe. You become their tribal leader.

  • What problem are you noticing?
  • Are you feeling their pain? Or you simply focused on your own pain?
  • How do you need to challenge your assumptions, perspective, and habits of thinking to solve this problem?
  • What will you do to find the answer and solve the problem?
  • Are you willing to become the disruptive leader needed to pivot your business and make the world better?

(c) 2020 Murfield International, Inc. All rights reserved.

Learn to Listen Effectively




Loren Murfield, Ph.D.

Dr. Murfield holds a PhD in Communication and works with leaders and organizations to solve significant problems with innovative thinking. What problem is frustrating you? Contact us today.

Check out my two podcasts, “Holy Crap, How’d They Do That?” and “Trends, Bends & Opportunities.”

Learn how you can engage employees during their most traumatic moments in our newly revised and just-released book, “The ROI of COMPASSION.” Click here to purchase your copy of “Leading with the Power of Compassion.” Recognize how you can ask one disruptive questions to “Make More Money in Tough Times.”

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