I’ll never forget the mother of eight who has transformed her neighborhood just because she stood up and said yes. She didn’t have a degree beyond high school, had very little professional experience, and lived in a challenging area wrecked by poverty, violence, drugs, and gangs. But she loved her daughter too much to simply let her slip away.
When she noticed her baby girl was starting to hang out with other 13-year-olds she wasn’t sure about, she knew she had to do something. Not wanting her daughter to make poor choices, she was faced with a decision: Would she simply just stand by and hope things worked out for the best, or would she do something about it?
This mother decided to head down the block where her daughter and friends were hanging out and invited them back to her house. Her daughter was reluctant at first but agreed. This mother didn’t know everyone she had just invited into her home, and that was the point. If she just tried to quarterback her daughter’s social circle from the outside in, it wouldn’t have made much difference. Instead, she decided to get to know her friends by spending time with them, too.
THE DECISION TO LEAD
That single decision ultimately led to more and more children finding a safe place to do their homework, learn about life, and find someone who cared for them. This mother’s one decision to say yes has transformed an entire neighborhood and helped students with little support at home find someone who believed in them. She gave them the courage and strength to rise above the limitations of their current circumstances and achieve more than they ever thought possible.
This mother would tell you she didn’t feel prepared, she didn’t have the right education, and she certainly wasn’t doing it for the position or prestige. This mother did what she did because she cared too much about her daughter—and the children of her neighborhood—to allow them to fall into bad decisions and destructive lifestyles that could have devastating effects on their future or even cost them their lives. And that’s why true leadership is all about.
Contrary to popular belief, leadership isn’t about nice suits, fast cars, big paychecks, or fancy corner offices. Leadership isn’t about telling people what to do, getting your way, or even just doing whatever you want. Those are false impressions about leadership that have little to nothing to do with leadership at all.
THE PLATFORM DOESN’T MAKE THE LEADER
The truth is leadership is a decision you make to rise up, take a stand, and make something true. It requires courage, sacrifice, and risk. And leadership rarely plays out on a platform of any kind. Instead, leadership happens in the margins and quiet spaces of your life.
What happens in the spotlight simply magnifies what already exists. Therefore, people mistakenly think the platform creates a leader when in fact it merely reflects and reveals the true character of the individual. Sometimes it’s pretty, but often it’s not.
So what does it mean to decide to lead? Let me give you five things to consider:
1. You choose to lead rather than wait for someone else to give you permission at some point in the future. Leadership is about showing up and saying yes. Too many people give away their personal power to someone else. You can do far more than you think possible.
2. You choose to help others, even when it costs you time, money, and opportunity. Leadership at its core is about people, their needs, and how you can help them move forward.
3. You choose to set aside your personal preferences because you recognize the outcome or result is greater than getting your way. Leadership is less about getting your way or being comfortable as it is making a way for others to grow, learn, develop, and succeed.
4. You choose to grow, so you’ll always be prepared for the next big challenge. Leaders have an insatiable appetite to learn and follow their curiosity because growth prepares them for their next challenge.
5. You choose to invest in others because so many have already invested in you. Leaders feel a responsibility to invest in others because so many have invested in them.
The greatest opportunities in life are the result of the courage to say yes to what’s in front of you rather than choose to wait for the perfect conditions to step forward. The mother I told you about above didn’t wait for a tragedy to intervene nor did she wait for her daughter to reach out. She noticed who her daughter was hanging out with because she was paying attention, and she wasn’t going to let some neighborhood friends potentially negatively influence her baby girl without doing something about it.
YOU CAN CREATE CHANGE
The result of authentic leadership is always change. Many people talk about making change, but few people do it. Why? Because leadership requires action, and most people would rather find an excuse to delay or opt-out rather than lean in, take responsibility, and act now.
I want to let you in on a little secret. You’ll never feel fully prepared to lead. It’s the decision to do something despite insurmountable odds that will result in the strength you need to keep moving forward.
If leadership is a decision, that means your next move is up to you. Choose wisely. It will make all the difference in the world.
REFLECT: Are you waiting on someone else to give you permission to lead? If so, who and why? Is there an opportunity right in front of you where you’ve been reluctant to step forward and lead? What would happen if you did decide to step up and step forward?