Monday, July 23, 2007

“Those who jump into the void owe no explanation to those who stand and watch”

A couple of years ago I was a member of the LEAD Program. The LEAD Program is a series of regularly scheduled classes that meets monthly for a yearlong course. The idea is for the participants to study and learn leadership skills that will help the students of the class develop into leaders for the Department. Through this course I learned that a leader must posses many qualities. Most importantly, I learned that leadership is not necessarily a position or a title. More than anything else leadership is a choice. It is a choice that is made over and over again. It is not as though a person is anointed as a leader and it is done once for all time. One must choose to lead over and over again. A very important point that needs to be made is that leadership can be either positive or negative. The choice is that of the leader.

Many people will question the fact that the leader chooses whether the path will be positive or negative. Debates can be waged that a leader can only lead those who are willing to follow. However, it is the leader that chooses. People want to be led and they will follow. The course that is set is done so by the leader. Just look at the various leaders in history. On one side you have Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King. These are the great leaders that used their skills to improve the social conditions for thousands. The benefits of their leadership are still being felt down to this day. On the other side of the spectrum there is Hitler, Idi Amin, and Saddam Hussein. These are people that had mass followings, but chose sinister means to lead towards destruction. The effects of their leadership remain a very real part of daily life. So, what is it that makes people follow certain leaders? Is it charisma, character, a set of common values? I don’t think it is any one thing. It is a combination of qualities, but I do believe that there is at least one common denominator for all leaders. That is their tendency to take action.

Leaders take action. They do not sit around and wait for fate or destiny to take care of things. For good or bad, leaders make things happen. They do not always wait for permission. They do what they feel needs to be done. Leaders are bold. They see what they want and they go after it. Very seldom do they hesitate. Leaders jump into the void. A leader is seldom deterred by the criticisms and cynical remarks of those who would rather stand by and watch. It is often hard for a leader to ignore the distraction of their detractors; however a leader presses on knowing that no explanation will satisfy the cynic. For every bold action taken their will be many cynics that will sit idly by and say how they would do it differently or how things would be better if things were done this way or that way. They are the ones that no explanation is owed. Their leadership skills and abilities have come to full fruition. They do not want to lead or to be led. They are happy staying stuck just where they are. They are afraid to take any form of bold action and become bitter that their situation never changes for the better. They wake up one day wondering why they have not become something better or why opportunities always seem to pass them by. They operate out of the fear that if they take bold action some cynic may criticize their efforts.
Yes, leaders are bold and it is true that leaders are often wrong. Leaders very often have more failures than success. Leaders are easy targets for those who wish to stand by and watch. Leaders are a minority. Great leaders are even rarer. Gandhi, Lincoln, and Martin Luther King faced many obstacles. The circumstances they faced were incredible. Most people believed that their goals were unobtainable. Their ideals were impossibly lofty. Most believed that their dreams could not and would not be realized. They were hated by many and opposed by most. However, their purpose was greater than their circumstance. Their ideas were bold and their actions were equally as bold. They changed the world with a bold and noble idea backed with bold action. Did they make mistakes? Too many to count, but that is not what matters. What matters is they jumped into the void.

You too can jump into the void of leadership. Develop a noble, just, and good idea. Make it bold and follow it up with noble, just, and good action. Make it bold action. Do not be afraid of failure or the cynic, there will be more than you can count. Just make your purpose stronger than the circumstance. Go ahead “Jump into the Void” and do not worry about explaining the fact that you have taken the leap to those who sit and watch.