You will find more true leaders—self-leaders—among teachers, nurses, and community organizers than you will among CEOs, politicians, and celebrities. It is the former who lead for the purpose of effecting positive change—change that has far-reaching and often immeasurable impact. Their motive for leadership is not a hunger for power. True leadership come from a desire to use your knowledge and ability in a way that has the greatest positive impact. True leadership is about contributing to the greater good. It is not self-serving. Yes, it is necessary to empower yourself to lead, but that is a means to a far greater end.
We must not confuse leadership with power. Leaders always have some measure of power, rooted in their capacity to persuade, but many people with power are without leadership gifts. Their power derives from money, or from the capacity to inflict harm, or from control of some piece of institutional machinery, or from access to the media. A military dictator has power. The thug who sticks a gun in your ribs has power. Leadership is something else.
Don’t allow yourself to become obsessed with bailing water from the bottom of a leaky boat. With your head down and your focus on getting rid of that threatening water, you’re missing the point. You’re not there to bail the water. The boat is there to get you where you need to be—that place in the sun where your actions are meaningful and your life has real purpose. Fix the leak and then worry about getting rid of the water so you can stay the course. It may be scary taking on extra water while you’re fixing the leak, but the alternative is that you never get where you need to be.
People born into privilege are often born into certain knowledge as well. At an early age, they learn how to work efficiently, manage their time, and otherwise maximize control over their lives. Most people, however, have not received this kind of knowledge, this ability to deal with challenges, realize goals, control what we have the ability to control. They are left floundering, assuming that they aren’t good enough, that their lives are too difficult, that they just can’t keep up.
For the benefit of everyone on this planet, there must be a democratization of these self-leadership skills. Somehow we must break through the cacophony of Internet memes, digital gunfire, and bad T.V. to teach people the immeasurable reward of living with honor, compassion, and the ability to make a difference. If we never learn the importance of contributing to the world around us, and how we can best go about doing that, it is a tragic loss.
Human potential is our greatest renewable resource and we have achieved marvels with it, yet we still have much to do. Our future great achievements will come from the masses not the elite.
Owning it is more than just a sense of responsibility for your actions. As a component of personal accountability, it involves the integration of your identity into your work, your family, your beliefs, your successes and failures, and virtually anything else that your actions affect. That includes challenges that you did not choose—challenges you are inescapably thrown into.