Home > Leadership, The Monday Musings Column > lessons in life and leadership from Pete Seeger

lessons in life and leadership from Pete Seeger

Last week the world lost one of its great communicators, teachers and leaders when Pete Seeger died and another of my heroes has passed on out of this life. I can’t be sad though because he has left such a legacy in his 94 years.

He was a communicator who could spread messages of peace through music and song and a man who could relate to people of all ages, if not, perhaps, of all political persuasions.

He was a teacher who showed a love of history, of the world and of nature.

He was a leader, even if that was a role that he did not seek, in that he demonstrated so many of the characteristics that leaders should have and which most of those who opposed him lacked.

Mr Seeger and I were politically a long way apart, and had we met we might have argued longs and hard on many issues, but that does not mean that we were opposed on everything and he was a hero to me not just through his music, but more in the way that he shared and taught; his sheer generosity towards everyone.

I first knew him through his songs and then in my teens learned of his politics and the consequences of that in McCarthy’s America of the early 1950s. Later I sought to learn more about him through my interest in traditional music and how it had been used through the centuries to communicate.

He was who he was and he stood by his beliefs through thick and thin, regardless of the consequences. He never took the easy path if to do so compromised his ideals. If it had to be the hard road then so be it, he took it with a song in his heart because that was the true way in his eyes. This was a man who stood up to the most powerful government on Earth in the early 1950s and fought them to a draw.

He fought as a soldier in WW2, but devoted the majority of his life to peace, and for the second half of his life he worked to better the environment and his works to clean up the Hudson River are rightly a legend.

Pete Seeger saw everyone as an equal and spread that message far and wide. Whilst we may no longer have the company of him in person we can enjoy hearing him and his messages of equality, peace and hope are there for the generations to come.

For those of us who lead people and organisations the lessons he left for us are still there too; that the right decision is not always the popular one, nor is making the right decision the easiest thing to see through, but if it is what you believe in then you need to be true to yourself and to see it through. His simple courage in the face of all odds shows in sharp relief the lack of it in many leaders, perhaps even more so today.

He certainly taught me much, not least that I should not make superficial judgements, but perhaps the best lesson I learned from him came via the words of a song that he didn’t write, but one that he made into an anthem for he taught me that whatever obstacles life might present me with that with courage I shall overcome them some day.

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