The Martin Luther King, Jr you know won the Nobel Prize, was murdered in 1968, has a national holiday in his name, and has hundreds of streets and schools named after him.
The man who helped organize and lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott, went to jail for his beliefs, and gave the “I Have a Dream” speech had not done any of those things.
The man who helped organize and lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott was a regular guy like you and me. He was a regular 26-year-old guy four years out of college, two years into a marriage, almost finished his doctorate. He didn’t know where the boycott would lead. The March on Washington was eight years away. The Civil Rights Act was nine years away.
Pick a historical leader. The person you know from history books didn’t do all the things you associate with them.
The person who did each individual historical thing didn’t do all those things. Doing all those things contributed to the historical figure you know, but the person who did them was only on the way to becoming that person.
The Napoleon who won all the battles you know he won hadn’t won a single battle when he led his first. Why would you think he was any less scared than you at the time?
The Eisenhower who successfully led the preparation for D-Day and became President of the United States didn’t decide to lead the D-Day invasion.
The Oprah you know today wasn’t the woman who started her career. No Oprah as we know her today existed then. I bet if you could ask the Oprah who started her career if she would achieve all she did she wouldn’t guess it could happen.
Pick any leader. None at the beginning was who they later became. They all started out more like you than like the leader they become.
What are you on the way to becoming? If you devoted yourself to something, what could you achieve in eight or nine years?
Vince Lombardi‘s quote on winning applies to leading and is relevant.
Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while; you don’t do things right once in a while; you do them right all of the time. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.
Why is this quote relevant?
Because once you decide you are a leader, if you believe that quote applies to leadership, then you are a leader from then on.
You can achieve the equivalents of what King, Gandhi, and so on did, because the ones who started what they did aren’t the historical figures you know. The people who started those things were regular people like you.
If you don’t get independence for a nation or change civil rights laws, that doesn’t change that you led as they did, it only says you did it in a different environment. But you aren’t your environment. Nor do I, at least, measure a leader only by their outcome. You have to consider their context. If you lead in your context well, who knows, maybe you would do better than some other great leader in your context.
Maybe if you were magically put into some great leader’s position instead of them you might do better.
And here is an important consideration to get you thinking about how you lead.
If you were in a great leader’s position — say a role model of yours — do you think you would make similar choices and get similar or greater results?
If not, and you want to improve, you don’t need to put yourself in positions like theirs. You don’t have to look at context at all. You know what you have to do to improve your leadership skills because you already know things you would do that wouldn’t measure up to their achievement.
If you don’t embody your values all the time — then you aren’t Gandhi or King. But if you do, then you can. And by Vince Lombardi’s quote, you already are. Which is why you can be their equivalent now and for the rest of your life.
If you lead as an all-the-time thing and you are leading to the best of your ability, you already are all the leader your role models are, at least early in their careers as leaders. If you aren’t, you know what need to do to improve.
All you have to do is improve the differences you know about.
Learn to make Meaningful Connections
with a simple, effective exercise from my book, Leadership Step by Step.
- Step by step instructions
- Video examples of me and Marshall Goldsmith
- An excerpt from my book