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Some leaders soar; others have to dig

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in Leaders & Managers,Workplace Communication

In 1963, John F. Kennedy went to West Berlin and declared that, while freedom comes hard and democracy isn’t perfect, “We have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in.”

Shortly afterward, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev arrived in East Berlin. He said he liked the wall that divided the city “so that no wolf can break into the German Democratic Republic again. Is that bad?”

At least one guy thought so. West Berliner Wolfgang “Tunnel” Fuchs wasn’t even 20 years old when he liberated his wife—who happened to be visiting her family on the day the border closed—from East Germany.

That first escape proved simple, in retrospect, as the East Germans gradually strengthened the wall with concrete and barbed wire.

Undaunted, Fuchs became the leader of all the “escape helpers,” working full time for 13 years to liberate other East Germans by forging identity cards, mapping the Berlin sewer system and, eventually, digging tunnels under the wall.

After thwarting the East Germans time after time, Fuchs and his comrades finally stopped tunneling after a shootout claimed the lives of several people.

Did Tunnel Fuchs give up? No. He devised a series of other escape devices, including a series of funky cars.

Lesson: If you really believe in what you’re doing, don’t quit after one method fails. Or even two or three. Your task will never be as difficult as tunneling under a fiercely defended wall.

— Adapted from The Fall of the Berlin Wall, William F. Buckley Jr., John Wiley & Sons.

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