Over this past week I was privileged to find myself in Warsaw, Poland, representing the Edmonton Charter Chapter of the International Coach Federation at the annual Global Leadership Forum. Coaching leadership from over 68 countries collaborating to support the growth of the coaching profession, our chapters and our clients. More on that later in future posts!
What the trip also afforded me, albeit in a very limited fashion, was the ability to get to know the history of Warsaw and Poland to a greater degree than what I previously possessed. I’m an avid history buff so that was perhaps saying something. Most particularly I had a chance to visit the Warsaw Uprising Museum and the Royal Castle. In both cases, I had the opportunity to fully appreciate the utter and complete devastation that Warsaw experienced as a result of World War II and the challenges it faced under Nazi, Soviet and Communist rule. Warsaw – a thriving and artistic metropolis of over 1 million people reduced to a pile of rubble occupied by no more than a few thousand at war’s end.
The journey back for Warsaw actually started at the commencement of hostilities in September 1939 and in some respects continues to this day. When Nazi planes started bombing the city, many of its cultural icons and buildings were immediately put at risk with the Royal Palace being severely damaged at the outset. Many brave Poles began the effort to save the artifacts within the building even to the point of losing their lives doing so. Throughout those early days of desperation and ultimate defeat they continued the effort to preserve as much of the art and even the architecture of their buildings. They showed as much determination in terms of preserving their heritage as the Nazi’s did in destroying and looting it.
No reprieve came to the residents of Warsaw and Poland as the war drew to a close. Quite the contrary. As Nazi Germany went through its death throes, Hitler and his cronies were more determined than ever to destroy what they could not own or control while at the same time making Warsaw a devastating battleground with the Soviet war machine. The result was that literally all of Warsaw was laid waste and the Royal Castle purposely destroyed by the Nazi’s before withdrawing from the area.
As might be imagined, the Soviet Union and its Communist-installed regime were in no rush to support reconstruction of glories of the past or anything that might detract from unswerving allegiance to a new world order. As a result reconstruction of the Royal Castle was not started until 1971 – fully 25 years after the end of World War II – and was not fully restored until 1988.
What does any of have this to with my usual focus on leadership? Simply this – consider the vision and the commitment to preserving a cultural heritage taken up by a few key leaders and likely hundreds if not thousands of other ordinary citizens from 1939 through to 1988. As I noted earlier, those who took steps to preserve the arts and architecture of the Royal Castle at the start and for the duration of World War II often paid for that effort with their lives. This meant not only removing art and furnishings from the Royal Castle. As I learned it also sometimes entailed removing pieces of the building itself – frescoes, statues, decorative paneling – all to be carried away and hidden until the war was over.
Regardless of whether these same individuals survived the war or not, many of them must have realized that they likely were not going to be around for the restoration of the Royal Palace or any other edifice in Warsaw. And yet they not only undertook the immediate effort and risk, but persevered in their commitment for the two plus decades that followed. They had to have known that their vision would not be realized in their lifetime. They faced a multitude of challenges including barriers put in place by authorities of the day and the very real issues facing a rebuilding nation and economy. But they persevered and sacrificed in support of their vision anyway.
Just as importantly, these visionaries were able to convince the populace of Warsaw, Poland and others to contribute to the rebuilding and restoration of the Royal Castle. By 1975 over $500 million zloty had been raised through voluntary contribution including from Polish citizens who in many ways had so little to give at the time as they continued to work to restore the basic necessities of life. Art and artifacts hidden during the war were recovered and returned for inclusion in the new structure. And new significant pieces of art were donated from other countries around the world.
How many of us struggle to create a vision for ourselves or the businesses we lead that goes much beyond two to three years?
How many of us aspire to create and sustain a vision with the power to impact well beyond ourselves operating with the realization that its achievement will be beyond our physical ability to see realized?
In today’s world how many of us would even entertain such prospects if there were not something of immediate gain in such a venture for us?
I hope you can take from this short post a sense of the inspiration and awe I felt for those with the commitment to build for more than just themselves. To be inspired by the selfless sacrifices that others were prepared to make for future generations and that we have seen in other similar circumstances - in business, in charitable causes, and in nation-building - and to challenge ourselves to a higher level of performance and goal setting.______________________________
Greg Hadubiak, MHSA, FACHE, CEC, PCC
Executive Coach/Senior Consultant
Helping leaders realize their strengths and enabling organizations to achieve their potential through the application of my leadership experience and coaching skills. I act as a point of leverage for my clients. I AM their Force Multiplier.