“A good leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” Rosalynn Carter (Former First Lady of the United States)
Often, when I think of great leadership, I conjure up some epic movies like Braveheart or The Avengers (Tony Stark…anyone?). Ultimately, I think of a leader as someone who emanates confidence and strength. Many leaders who lead corporations, non-profits or organizations believe they must present an image of enduring self-assuredness and fearlessness.
But true leaders, I believe, are the ones who forge ahead even when they’re not confident and who let their teams know that they don’t always have all the answers.
Some of the greatest leaders in history have made public commitments that, at the time, they didn’t know how they would pull off. For example, in 1960, John F. Kennedy, our newly elected President, declared that the United States would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. We didn’t have the capabilities in place to do this, but nonetheless, he committed to make this happen. This could’ve been political disaster for Kennedy…saying something that didn’t get done. But in the end, on July 21, 1969 (with a year to spare), Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon.
Great leaders take risks with their reputations in the name of moving ahead with a big, and sometimes seemingly impossible, goal. Their vision, excitement, and innovation spur them ahead even when they don’t yet have the capability to make these aspirations a reality.
Doing this takes great courage. And being willing to hold to your values, ideals, beliefs and vision, even when it’s not popular, is essential in leadership.
Being a leader means having the courage to go into unchartered territory and take a risk without guarantee of success. This type of courage is what distinguishes good leaders from great ones.
And, great leaders don’t hang on to past memories of when they displayed courage, rather they continue to take risks on their big ideas.
In the end, courage and leadership go hand in hand.
Ultimately, courage is not the absence of fear. It’s being afraid, acknowledging your fear, and pushing ahead toward your goal anyway. It’s having the confidence that along the way, you’ll gain the capabilities necessary to achieve your goal.
Displaying this type of leadership is uniting, it shows others that you’re human, you have faults and issues. But giving them something to believe in, showing them that you’re prepared to take risks and move forward despite uncertainty, makes it easier for others to do so.
On July 1, 1960, as a result of Kennedy’s inspirational leadership, NASA established the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Over the course of the next 9 years, the Apollo moon mission would require the support of over 20,000 industrial firms and universities and would employ over 400,000 people. And the mission was an epic success.
So, what are you leading? You may not be a politician or a president, but maybe you’re a mom or dad. You may not be a business owner or a CEO, but you might have direct reports. You may not feel like you lead anything, but perhaps you lead a committee at a local non-profit. In the end, we all lead something. It may not fit your perfect definition of leadership, but it fits Mrs. Carter’s definition. You take people to where they ought to be. You can do that in a family, a team, a school, an organization…at a tactical level, you even lead yourself. Maybe you ought to be in the gym, or reading a leadership book, or reconciling with a loved one.
We’re all leaders in some important way. You matter.
May you lead well today.