-John Quincy Adams
Leadership is the most important of human aspirations and a quality that is in high demand within the current state of our Nation. How does one define a leader? How are these leaders made? Over the course of the past few months, I have had a special opportunity to interact with some of our Nation’s strongest leaders who pursue passions in a variety of different industries (Athletics, Armed Forces, Politics, Fitness, Film, Television, and Art). These experiences have essentially served as a crash course in how to lead effectively, allowing me the chance to directly observe underlying traits that are shared by some of the most influential individuals. Every “leader” that I have met utilizes a gift that we all possess and through listening to their experiences and living out my own, I have come up with 10 lessons that I hope will help you discover your own potential. For a more complete overview on the fundamentals of leadership please be sure to read my article, The Power of Effective Leadership-26 Life Lessons. Be Your Own Hero!
10 Lessons For Aspiring Leaders
1. Follow Your Internal Compass and Empower Others to Do The Same– Deep down everyone knows the direction they should go in, however, fear and uncertainty can often paralyze the strongest ambition. You must learn to listen and trust your internal compass if you are to ever discover your own potential. By living a life that is authentic to whom you are or wish to be, you will indirectly empower everyone you come in contact with to discover their own strength. We must be accountable and lead from within if our Nation is to progress in the 21st century.
2. If You Don’t Know Your Purpose, Discover it Through Personal Experience– Every great leader must have a purpose and the only way to discover this purpose is through experience. Your life will be a constant cycle of gain and loss and success and failure, each event acting as an opportunity to expand your strength and awareness. Through confronting your greatest fears and greatest adversities, you will begin to discover your potential in becoming whoever it is you wish to be. There are no limits to what you can create or who you can become, so feel free to dream BIG.
3. Evolve from the Conditioned Fight or Flight Response– The human race has evolved over thousands of years due to a conditioned response that has guaranteed its survival. The response, known as “fight or flight”, plays out like this. If an unknown stimulus is present, a human being has one of two instinctive reactions, fear it (run away) or kill it. This evolutionary response was great for dealing with a tiger in the wild, however, as our world has evolved, our evolutionary responses have not. Most people in our culture display the same conditioned response when confronted with a new perception, idea, or dream as they would gaze down at the jaws of a tiger. They either FEAR the new perception, idea, or dream or they try to KILL IT. We must be willing to evolve as human beings and as leaders if we are to discover our own strength in the 21st century. Go out into your communities and be unafraid to interact with new people and experience new things. LIVE.
4. View Fear as a Positive Indicator that you are Moving in the Right Direction– I received this advice during an interview with one of the greatest leaders of my generation (Eric Greitens). He told me that it is through the feeling of fear that we know we are headed in the right direction. It sounds counter-intuitive right? Doesn’t fear protect us from danger? The truth behind Eric’s statement is that a vast majority of our society hides behind their fear and is afraid of anything outside the status quo. These individuals do not truly live because they never will possess the ambition, drive, or courage to free themselves from their self created limitations. Take the time right now to think about something you were deathly afraid of as a child. What happened when you confronted that fear? Now think of something you feared this past month. Have you been able to confront it? What was the outcome? Many times our fears are just layers of our insecurity that we must purge to strengthen our human potential.
5. Never Let External Circumstances Take Away From Who You Are or Wish to Be– A leader can never let others rob them of their visions or dreams. Some people you interact with will resent you because you force them to confront their own limitations, however, you will also in that very moment present them with a gift to realize their own potential. Never be afraid to live a life that is authentic to whom you are or wish to be. You are the creator and resisting your own power will only weaken you and those around you.
6. Live Outside Your Parent’s Perspectives– You are not your parents and you must be willing to confront your loved ones if they challenge your vision or dream. This is the hardest thing for an aspiring leader to do; however, it must be done if you wish to discover your own potential. We are all shaped by our experiences and perceptions so it is meaningless to try to live out the dreams of another. If you find your passion and are not afraid to pursue it, your parents will one day appreciate the leader that you have become. If not, you will find satisfaction in the new relationships you have attracted into your life.
7. Let Love Fuel Everything That You Do– To experience Love you must be Love. Let love be the primary force behind everything that you do and you will find out what it feels like to truly live. Once you experience true love, it can never leave you despite changes in external circumstances. If you mix love into everything that you do, you will find that you have a new energy and creativity which will allow you to bring your highest visions to reality. Pursue your passions and you will be rewarded.
8. Learn from the System to Free Yourself From It- Our society is composed of many “Systems” which have been utilized throughout human civilization to control the work force. “Systems” are generally operated on principles of dependency, strict rules, no employee autonomy, and led by a minority that profit off of the majority. These Systems will one day by reshaped by a new movement of leadership, however, until you experience their current state, you will not be able to build an awareness that will free yourself from them. Workers that are employed in different systems often have their creativity and leadership sapped through years of unconscious service that is controlled by the illusion of loss. To be an effective leader in this World, you must learn to think for yourself and be accountable as your own producer. The American Dream lies in your ability to trust yourself and empower those around you. Stop waiting and start working towards living your dreams, whatever they may be.
9. Always Live with an Open Heart, Even if it Hurts– To show love and receive love, you must ALWAYS be willing to remain completely open and vulnerable despite any external circumstance. Many people that experience loss or hurt will immediately close themselves off and by doing so they will continue to suffer until they confront their insecurity. I can certainty attest that when you lose someone you love, it is often very difficult to overcome the pain, however, by doing so you will become aware of your greatest power. Loss is an illusion and through this understanding you will gain the World.
10. Surround Yourself With the Strongest Leaders & Mentors- As your leadership strengthens you will find yourself surrounded by people that share similar qualities. Reach out to the ”heroes” that you admire and listen to their advice. With the ability to reach out to anyone in the World, there is no limit to who you can include in your inner circle. Offer to help others in any capacity that you can and take part in creating an interdependent community of creators.
For another wonderful resource on leadership, please check out Lead Without Followers by Dave Ursillo (Class of ’08). It will be available in the Holy Cross Book Store under the “Published Alums” section. Be Your Own Hero!