I spent the last 28 years developing my understanding of, and skills in, leadership at one of the biggest and most complex organizations in the world, the US Army. I have experienced the difference between leading the masses and leading extremely elite, highly-motivated problem solvers. What I am about to tell you will not blow you away: Leadership is not complex, but because we are human (and those we lead are human), it is very hard to consistently execute.
This is partly due to how difficult it is for humans to stay above the Leadership Line . Usually, humans need reminders more than they need to be educated or even disciplined. I have seen some amazing leaders in the military, in business, and in politics, but one of the best leaders that this world has seen is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Ichallenge you to take this opportunity to put some thought into the extraordinary leadership of Dr. King. This applies to all of us since leadership has no assigned country, no appointed role, and no expected level in an organization. John Maxwell states that leadership is “influence, nothing more and nothing less”.
Dr. King’s influence is unparalleled. He was not elected or appointed. He had no rank or grade. He had no positional power or authority. He had no pedigree. He had no money. He could not directly offer a benefit or reward for following him or accepting his influence. Although he held none of these variables, he did hold one extremely critical element: he was right. He was legal, moral, ethical, peaceful, and simply, just right. There was nothing about what he said or how he said it that you could argue with... that is if you had even the slightest bit of conscience or sense of right and wrong. He believed in and invested in the fabric and the future of not only the United States of America but also mankind around the globe. He was a man who tried his earthly best to be true to his beliefs. His intent was simply to free all people from oppression and to liberate a union from hate. He found a common thread by supporting the founding documents of the US created by the founders of the nation. Dr. King had unbelievable discipline and focus to the non-violent strategy that he learned from his study of Mahatma Gandhi.
Through Dr. King’s leadership, he was able to take the aftermath of Bloody Sunday on the Edward Pettus Bridge and turn it into a non-violent march of four days to Montgomery. He changed laws, policy, and won the Nobel Peace Prize among many other accomplishments. Most importantly, he changed a nation and a world. He changed mankind. I will not speak further on the topic, other than to encourage you to study outside the normally focused-on advancement of civil rights of Dr. King by studying how he accomplished such things through some of the greatest display of leadership the world has ever seen.
Leadership is about people. It's about courage and vulnerability; it's about listening as much as orating; it's about compassion as much as passion. Leadership is about helping others achieve something greater than they may have, could have, or would have without you. Great leaders are role models. They impeccably prepare themselves, they consistently show up at their best, and they infect others in a positive way with their High Performance Mindset. Most importantly, they constantly challenge themselves to grow and they hold themselves accountable to stay over the leadership line.
As you reflect on this, I look forward to your thoughts.