School’s out, summer’s here, the weather’s great, and folks are heading out everywhere on vacation. People should be happy and upbeat, yet there’s not much evidence of any such emotions. Rather, a scent of discontent seems to be permeating the country this summer, wafting across geographic boundaries and demographic classifications.

It just seems like everybody’s angry about someone or something. They’re increasingly concerned by the state of the economy, depressed by the polarization of society, worried by the uncertainty of new technology, distrustful of historical institutions and uneasy about climate change. And they’re also frustrated by their political choices and their perceived estrangement from the democratic process.

As The Hill describes it, “America is in a period of internal dissonance — not quite decay but something akin to it.” All in all, it’s a generally negative reaction to current events that serves to color relationships, temper tolerance, undermine confidence and curb optimism. And to the extent that such attitudes infect the workforce, organizations and their productivity will undoubtedly suffer – only furthering the miasma.

Yet it’s an environment that’s ripe for effective leadership at every enterprise level; leadership that’s focused on reducing the tensions and establishing a firm “tone at the top”, to stabilize culture, re-energize employees and reconfirm the validity of organizational purpose.

But that’s no easy task – just ask Jimmy Carter.

Forty five years ago, in the midst of a burgeoning energy crisis, President Carter sensed a similar malodor of national discontentment. In a televised address on July 15, 1979 he spoke to a “crisis of confidence” in the future that he believed to pose a fundamental threat to the social and political fabric of the country.

The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways…It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation.

To President Carter, the most tangible evidence of the crisis of confidence was in the country’s inability to adopt a national energy policy. His answer was in large part a series of energy initiatives which called for public discipline and sacrifice.

While the President’s instincts may have been right, his messaging might not have been. There was a sense – unfairly – that he was chastising the country for self-indulgence and excessive consumption. And while he never actually used the term “malaise”, it nevertheless stuck; the tone of his plea was ultimately rejected by the majority and likely led to his re-election defeat.

It’s a lesson that today’s organizational leaders might keep in mind when fashioning their own response to this national dissonance. Borrowing from President Carter, it’s a response that might incorporate the following:

Respect for Institutions. It is important that leaders reflect support for basic American institutions that currently are under siege, including courts, legislatures, higher education and the media. As frustrating as these institutions may be at times, overt organizational hostility to them can be a highly counterproductive exercise.

A Purposeful Mission. Effective leaders will seek to promote internally the essential value to constituents of the company’s goods, services, and/or products. Organizational morale is likely to increase when employees, executives and ownership have a shared sense of pride in enterprise purpose.

Presence. The most impactful leadership is that which connects directly with human capital through both its “tone at the top” and its physical presence within in the workplace. Management and employees both benefit from a sense that leaders are engaged with, and not isolated from, them.

Culture. Organizational leadership should be in agreement on behavioral norms that clearly articulate the levels of authority between the board and management, and in so doing incentivize foundational support for their respective roles.

Ethics and Compliance. Organizational symptoms of dissonance and discontent are best addressed by leaders who are recognized internally for their personal ethics and a willingness to embed integrity and honesty throughout the enterprise.

Office Discourse. With the ongoing election cycle, responsive leadership will recognize the need for employees to have some form of outlet through which they engage in political discourse at the workplace, within accepted boundaries of civility and respect.

President Carter may well have been ahead of his time when he addressed the country that summer night in July, 1979. But given the sense of national dissonance that seems abroad the country this summer of 2024, there may be value in revisiting his message.

And from a leadership perspective, that revisiting might be less on his warnings of a crisis in national spirit, and more on his ultimate confidence in the spirit of the American people, and their basic belief in public institutions, private enterprise, progress, human dignity and ultimately the Constitution.

Such confidence in the national will is a resource from which all leaders, within and outside government, may readily draw.