The Courage to Not Overreact

One of my favorite podcasts is the Washington Posts’ Presidential Podcast. It’s a unique idea: cover one president a week for like 45-50 minutes. They began on January 10th of this year with George Washington. The plan is to continue until Election Day.

I love presidential history. This podcast doesn’t give you a deep dive that a biography or mini-series would, of course, but has been helpful, especially for some of the more obscure presidents in our history.

As the coverage moves into the modern era, there is so much more to cover because there is so much more we know. So the host, Lillian Cunningham, has been forced to cover basics and then choose what issues to dwell on. Listeners will, obviously, disagree at times with what she chooses to cover. I’ll admit some episodes have left me a bit more disappointed that certain things were not discussed. But then again, this is not my podcast.

Today I listened to the most recent one, covering President Dwight Eisenhower. I’ve read quite a bit about Eisenhower, so I was looking forward to it. Presidential chose to cover some of Ike’s leadership traits. One of the guest experts said something that made me think: Eisenhower had the courage to wait before acting. An experienced general, who led the Allies to victory in World War II, Ike was no stranger to leadership in crisis. This well-prepared him for the Presidency, perhaps better than most of our other presidents. Because Eisenhower was confident in his own leadership, he didn’t overreact in key situations. He didn’t listen to the many voices who wanted him to move swiftly when it was more prudent to wait for the right timing and for things to play out.

This is a key leadership principle, I think, not only for Presidents, but for any kind of leader. Too often we are pressured to do something. We live in a fast-paced, social-media driven world. Inaction, at times, seems like we don’t care. To be sure, this isn’t an excuse for laziness, but there is a wise middle course between panicking and passivity.

Leadership often requires quick action, but it requires the right kind of action and the right timing. I’m reminded of James wise words:

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:19). 

We live in an impatient, instant age. The fast pace of the modern world, the pressure to perform and look decisive can injure our ability to lead people well. This affects our ability to listen, to learn, to get all the facts about a situation.

I’ve also noticed how this affects parenting. Sometimes its important to step in and act quickly when our kids act up or something bad is happening. But we should also be wary of the tendency to overreact to situations, to jump in and rescue our kids when, at times, we should let them work things out on their own.

Good leadership knows when to be emotional and when to keep a cool head, when to jump on a situation and when to sit back and allow things to play out. We get this wisdom best when we lean in on the Spirit of God, when we read the Scriptures, and when we are surrounded by good voices who can help us think through critical decisions.

Sometimes courage looks like decisive action. But sometimes courage looks like simply waiting.

photo credit: Eisenhower Presidential Library
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