Leaders must solve problems.
Besides being decision makers, vision drivers, and humble, level 5, catalysts of social change, leaders must confront issues that threaten their team. If they don’t battle the problems as they arise, then manageable problems multiply and threaten to do more damage than anticipated. In other words, leaders must eat the locust before it breeds and becomes a plague of Biblical proportions.
A locust is nothing but a common insect or bug, resembling a grasshopper, spending most of its life minding its own business, eating grass for professional and medicinal purposes. Only when a hungry locust encounters another hungry locust does the insect start to change from an introverted vegetarian to a bloodthirsty, rampaging member of a potential swarm that at its worst can cover more than five miles in size and density when joined with other locusts.
Yet, there are less than ten species of insects that can be eaten by human beings and the locust happens to be one of them. In other words, one way to fight against the eye of the swarm is to start eating them one by one.
The same goes for leaders and the problems they face. Problems are attracted to other problems and if left alone, they will breed and wreak havoc. Leaders must eat the locust or the locust will multiply and destroy everything in its path.
What problems should the leader address first? The first problem is the one right in front of us.
Quit looking outside the team first and quit trying to change the world. Instead, deal with the friction and fragile relationships in your own home or your own team or your own business first, then deal with other things. Flight attendants repeat the same thing every single time: before helping anyone else, put on your own oxygen mask. The idea is simple—if you can’t breathe, then you’re not going to be much help to me or anyone else. You will die with a little plastic cup and rubber band dangling above your head because we experienced a slight change in cabin pressure.
Congress members raise large sums of cash to get a job, but can’t pass a budget when on the job. Divorced people in church will complain about same sex marriage and Wall Street executives will charge money for financial advice after putting the entire global economy in to the worst recession since women were finally granted the right to vote. If every single leader would first eat the locust, then problems would be at least manageable.
“But, don’t you think you’re being a bit idealistic,” says my reflection in the mirror.
I say nothing. I form a cup with my two hands, hold them under the faucet until water overflows on to my wrists. Then, I throw the water in to my face and stare back at my idealistic self with a determined, Rocky Balboa look on my face. And I mean the one that finally stumbled to his feet to beat Apollo Creed, not the one who waved to the crowd in Rocky V.
“Lots of books are written about leaders, but people just don’t care anymore about solving problems. The American Dream has become a lifestyle that values discretionary income, not a liberty seeking band of colonies bound by common ideals and independence and ingenuity,” taunts my reflection.
Again, I say nothing. I think about flipping off the man in the mirror, but figure that there are better ways to start my day than giving my own reflection the bird.
“If people eat the locust, what’s next? Will they graduate to eating worms or rodents?” says my reflection in a way that sounds like a dramatic attorney in a legal thriller pouncing on the unsuspecting witness.
With water running down my face in what is now a mix of sweat and tears, I lean in closer to the mirror and look at it. At first it’s a stare down, like in a Clint Eastwood western where we all know that the idiot will reach for his gun and Clint will blow him away. For the record, Eastwood’s stare is second to none and my reflection is no match for the good, the bad, and the ugly. Without taking my eyes off the reflection, I start sloshing Listerine in my mouth, shifting my eyes from the Eastwood stare to the Eastwood squint.
Then, I spit.
I don’t even bother to check if my spit reaches the sink because I am now the Outlaw Josey Wales and at this very moment, I could care less what anyone else thinks. There are punks in the world who need to be put in their place. And there is injustice to be fought against and corruption to be crusaded against, but right now, I am focused on one thing. Before leaving the house to make the world a better place, I am going to eat the locust for breakfast.
And this frightens me because normally I eat Nutri-Grain waffles or Honey Nut Cheerios. On every other day, I blend in to the crowd that rushes to work to just survive the rat race and make it home in one piece with a paycheck. Today, though, everything will change.
Warnings went unheeded in Madagascar the end of last summer and earlier this year, the country’s leadership declared a state of emergency as the worst locust plague in over 50 years spread to jeopardize a large percentage of the food supply and subsequently threatening the lives of many of its own people. Mark Tran, writing for the Guardian in July of this year, makes this point: “Those employed by the anti-locust national centre…to monitor the locust populations in the swamps in the south stopped receiving salaries,”  after an internal coup led to many countries suspending foreign aid and increasing the rate of poverty in a country that is already one of the more poverty stricken nations on earth. This summer’s plague could take several months or years to bring under control and could cost tens of millions of dollars to fight, money that the country doesn’t have lying around.
Because the leadership suspended monies for the very people tasked with monitoring the locust population, problems multiplied to a magnitude that demands outside intervention.
So, I am at the breakfast table refusing to let go of important partners, refusing to let things grow out of control, and refusing to let the cynicism of Washington D.C. or cable news outlets get the best of me. No, today, I am preparing myself to eat the locust before leaving the house for the day. If I close my eyes, the whole thing sounds just like corn flakes and if I chase it down with scalding hot coffee, it’s like swallowing vitamins. I do not have to accept the dysfunction of other leaders as normal. I do not have to accept the giant problems as unsolvable or insurmountable. Instead, I will commit to eat the locust before it finds other hungry little bugs and multiplies and threatens to kill us all. I can do this and you can too. This is the start of a brand new day.
 Tran, Mark. “Madagascar Battle Worst Locust Plague Since 1950’s,” from the Guardian, 12 July 2013; see also http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2013/jul/12/madagascar-locust-plague