Wouldn’t you agree that the goal of every great leader is to create more leaders? Or should we say, more teachers perhaps?
It’s been said that the greatest teacher of all time was in fact just a simple carpenter.
However, Jesus never picked up a pen. Never wrote down a single word. Yet his teachings have been published more than any other book. More than two billion people adhere to his words some 2000 years after his death.
Juxtapose him with Genghis Khan, the great Mongolian ruler, known for his brutality as a savage warrior. He conquered lands four times the size of those taken by Alexander the Great, ruling the largest empire ever established, stretching from the Caspian Sea to the Sea of Japan, spanning over 700 tribes and cities.
Yet he was illiterate and could neither read nor write.
Their commonality? Obviously not their penmanship or social media savvy. Yet they possessed an ability to move people to action that was unprecedented at their time and still impresses us today in the modern era.
Although diametrically opposed, these two historical figures ability to lead, be it via savagery or love, spoke volumes about their ability to transcend the pages of history. The benevolent preacher of Bethlehem and the brutish barbarian of Asia led people to action massive action, one with kindness and an army of 12, the other with savagery and a fighting force of more than 120,000.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that those of you reading this neither have the wisdom of Jesus nor the ferocity of Khan, but don’t worry that doesn’t exempt you from being an epic leader.
But I will ask you these questions; How are you leading today? Your family? Your business? Yourself?
No matter where you are on a scale of one to 10, there is room to improve. And to help you, I’m going to give you three of my favorite things to concentrate on if your goal is indeed to be a better leader.
One of my favorite leaders in history is Margaret Thatcher. Dubbed the “Iron Lady,” she was the first female Prime Minister of Great Britain and the longest serving Prime Minister of the 20th century, serving from 1975-1990.
Not known as a dynamic speaker early in her career, she gained respect instead for being courageous and resolute in her ideals and decision making. A person of conviction who was known for not following the crowd and making the hard decisions. Leading Britain out of a recession and assisting Ronald Reagan in the ending of the Cold War, Thatcher was never short on chutzpah.
She was bold. She was brash. She was ahead of her time, serving during a period when the glass ceiling was still very much in tact, gaining power 40 years prior to Hillary Clinton’s history making nomination here in the states. Thatcher herself is on record for saying there would never be a female Prime Minister in her lifetime…until she proved herself wrong.
One of my favorite quotes of hers is “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”
WALK THE WALK
The best teachers lead by example, they not only talk the talk, they walk the walk. Being a leader is a lot more difficult than standing on a soapbox and telling people what they should be thinking, although I know somebody on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave who does a pretty good job of it.
However, there was a former resident at that same address who epitomized the notion.
Theodore Roosevelt was born into a prominent New York City family. The Roosevelts were socialites, certainly considered higher class. Young Theodore attended Harvard University and would become Assistant Secretary of the Navy. But that’s where the story begins. He solidified his place in history as a courageous leader of men by fighting side by side on the battlefield with the men he commanded. He certainly didn’t believe in asking things of his men which he wasn’t willing to do himself, even if that meant risking his life.
You’ve heard of the famous Rough Riders with which he rode during the Spanish American War? They called him “the Bullmoose” or “the Lion”, sometimes even “the Happy Warrior”, and indeed he kept parts of his socialite past, even going so far as to have his military uniform tailored by Brooks Brothers. But on the other hand Teddy, as most of us know him today, wasn’t afraid to get it dirty and mix it up.
In June 1898, while leading troops in an advance toward the San Juan River, Roosevelt took shrapnel to the wrist when a bomb blew up by him. He pushed on, riding his horse until they reached a wire fence. From there he dismounted and led a charge up what was known as Kettle Hill. Of the five men he charged with, three fell wounded among gunfire. Roosevelt, returned to his line and heatedly confronted the remaining men for not following.
Offering a few choice words of encouragement, he returned to the font lines and held his position.
That was certainly his M.O., choosing actions over words. But when he spoke, it was powerful. One of his more famous lines that has resonated throughout history and is still used quite often today is “speak softly and carry a big stick”. Personally, being a huge proponent of personal responsibility, I find that my favorite line from the 25th President is “If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.” In other words, don’t blame others, look inward.
Where there is no vision, the people perish. —Proverbs 29:18
So perhaps you see it, but do the ones you’re leading see it?
Casting a vision is crucial to achieving success at any level, and here is where this story gets a little personal.
Lets go back four years. My wife and I are new parents of a six-month-old baby girl. We’re living a “good life” but not a “great life”, each working 50 plus hours a week while doing our best doubling down as day care providers to our newborn child.
We’re living over 500 miles away from our closest relatives and struggling to find our niche in life. At the time, we were five months into a side project which was beginning to get our attention. What began as some extra income to pay our utility bills was quickly escalating into a blossoming career, nearly replacing both our salaries.
One day at a January convention in Phoenix my wife and I hear a man speak his vision to the attentive audience. To “free the world from both physical and financial pain”. His wife joins him on stage and adds “we are a legacy company, something that will be around for your children’s children.”
My wife and I confidently look at one another and say to each other the same thing, “we are all in!”
We leave the so-called safety of corporate America and do just that, go all in.
But why? The reason was vision. We saw another couple stand in front of us that day and articulately lay out a vision for their company that included us and the role we could play in it. That was important to us. They spoke to our spirits and our heart’s desires. So much so that we “burned the ships” and said we either do this or die trying.
But it was the vision. A clear and concise statement delivered with conviction and certainty that pushed us in that direction so willingly.
In author Dan Quiggle’s book Lead Like Reagan he says “those around you are listening for the way in which you articulate vision, analyzing whether they think they can fulfill it, and deciding what role they could or should play in it. They are gauging your level of passion and enthusiasm, and based on that, they will determine the level of energy or effort they want to exert in helping fulfill it.”
At that conference, the vision was said with such passion and confidence that my wife and I decided we’d play a major role.
One of the most influential motivators in my life has been Author Lisa Nichols. Having read her books, hearing her speak several times and being coached one-on-one by her on a special occasion, I often seek out her wisdom when it comes to leadership. And one thing that Nichols said kept resonating with me over and over during the last couple years since taking that leap of faith. She said “people are more comfortable with a familiar discomfort than they are with an unfamiliar new possibility.”
Wow, how true is that?
My wife and I continually refer to it as “groundhog day syndrome.” It’s very much like Albert Einstein’s famous definition of insanity; doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Yet it happens, in my opinion, a majority of the time, to most people. They fear taking the lead so they do the opposite, they follow. The follow the path of monotony right to their grave.
I often ask myself what if”, what if that couple didn’t cast that vision that day? Where would I be?
Certainly not here, talking to you.