Joe Biden, Leading in the Midst of Tragedy

Promise Me Dad


When tragedy strikes it does not come with a warning, there is no time for preparations, and no pause button to push.  It shows up on the doorstep unannounced and unwelcomed, bringing fear, uncertainty and chaos. 

Joe Biden’s book “Promise Me Dad” sheds a light on the need to carry on while holding on when personal tragedy strikes.   As second in command, Vice President of the US, a position that is often perceived as obscure, Mr. Biden shows us the importance, responsibilities and the influence he has had during the same time his son Beau was battling for his life from Brain Cancer.   Imagine, for just a moment what that would be like. How could or would you handle this? 

For most of us, time off from our professional obligations is not an option, nor a desire.      Catastrophes rob of us of control, leaving behind a personal free fall down Alice’s rabbit hole.    What we seek is something to grab hold of, stability, a solid ground beneath us.   Some semblance of control often is found in the daily rituals of work, a place where we see success, make a contribution and most problems present an opportunity to be solved, unlike the illness of a child.

This same idea is brought to light in Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Option B”,   where she states “relieving people of their responsibilities could mean denying them a way of finding their bearing.”  Sandberg having a similar journey through grief and the chronic stress it creates with the sudden and unexpected death of her husband.  


Leaders often emerge from the ashes of tragedy. However, a leader needs support too, a brace to stand on as they align others into a forward movement.   Where do those braces come from?  From the inner circle that has always supported them, the people whom often times, know us the best.  For Joe Biden, it comes from his wife, his secret service, his personal assistant and his strong faith. The hardest part for most of us is to let others in, accept the help and advice.   

Strong leaders are wired to present strength and confidence in tough times. They will probably tell you everything is fine and they are coping well.  What they won’t tell you is they are experiencing symptoms of chronic stress and grief.

      They are not eating

      They are not sleeping

      It is difficult to focus or concentrate

      Energy is low

It is not in a leader’s nature to show weakness, but even the most talented executive isn’t immune to these challenges.  The demands of the job don’t stop. Without the right support, a leader is at risk and costly mistakes can happen. Left unchecked this 24-hour burden being carried will cause health problems as the toll it takes on your body is increased. Mr. Biden shows the village which enveloped him and provided the ability to continue representing his country and his family with grace and dignity.   In exchange, those around him received back hope. Hope, the thread we all cling to, we all need during times like this.  When you give hope you also get hope in return.  There is hope in purpose.


There is no one on this rich, complicated journey of life that is immune to personal tragedies.  We are all human and share the joys of birth and the pain of death.  We have our titles, our positions and our jobs but who we are as humans, who we are to each other that is where our bond lies.

Joe Biden has many talents as a leader and a politician but his compassion for the human experience has made him the person that is admired and respected.   In a recent interview on the television show  ” The View”, the man Joe was seen by the viewers, and the former Vice President and Senator were just titles he carried.  

Co-host Meghan McCain, also the daughter of the Republican Arizona Senator John McCain who was diagnosed this year with same cancer that took the life of Beau, began the interview of former Vice President Biden, by explaining tearfully, she could not get through the book, however, “ I thinks of Beau almost every day and I was told it doesn’t get easier but you cultivate the tools to work with this and live with this.  What would you tell people_______.”

Mr. Biden got up, took a seat next to her, held her hand and spoke directly to her.  Human to human, eye to eye, compassionate and supportive as only someone who has walked in those shoes can. Political divisions between McCain’s father and Joe Biden were not visible, empathy, hope and admiration were in the forefront, and I am certain it touched the heart of Meghan McCain as well as the thousands of viewers fortunate enough to witness a leader at his best.

Leadership is the influence on a two-way street.   Influence FROM those you lead and influence TO those you lead.  We all need each other, we are more alike than we are different and the greatest leaders know how to accept support as well as give support.  Joe Biden has many gifts bestowed upon him by his maker, but his purpose may be unfolding, to lead others to a more compassionate world.   I would prefer Mr. Biden as President but I, as well as many executives we serve, would be thrilled to have him as a coach.

 “The most powerful leadership tool you have is your own personal example.” John Wooden