Your Position Does Not Make You a Leader

Many young people I meet, especially incoming freshman, believe they must wait for a magical moment in time in the future to have influence and be a leader. Whether it starts in the home or the classroom, someone is spreading the terrible idea that you can influence others—just not right now. I’m not sure about the source of this idea, but it’s a dangerous one in my opinion.

If there were one thing I wish I could convince everyone on the planet to believe, it would be that they can influence change right where they are today. This concept surfaced again in a recent lunch conversation I had with a small group of freshman. Each student was telling me about their dreams, passions, and hopes for their future. (These conversations are always so refreshing for me.)

Turn your “one-day” dreams into reality today.

One student seemed enchanted with the idea that one day she would have a position that would give her influence and then she could create the change she wanted to bring about in the world. She talked about what she wanted to do and how hard she was going to work to have the opportunity to influence that change.

I was so moved by her passion and focus. It was obvious through her voice and body language that this was something very important to her. But I wanted to help her think differently. I didn’t want her to continue to believe that she couldn’t take steps toward that big dream today.

Influence is something everyone possesses on some level.

I explained that if everyone waited until they had permission to influence change, everything would stay the same—forever. I challenged her to reflect on her words. Instead of thinking that she had to wait until someone else gave her a position of authority, she could influence change right now

Of course, the next question out of her mouth was, “How?” I told her that was something she would need to sort out. But I noted that there had to be something she could do—at least one thing every day—to help her move toward her goal.

There are no simple answers; that’s what makes life an adventure.

I could tell that she wanted me to supply her an answer. I know because I’ve been in that position before. I desperately wanted someone to tell me how to get unstuck. It's never that easy. I simply believe every day affords you and me the opportunity to take the next step toward creating and influencing change. It’s a daily decision and commitment to make.

If I could tell would-be change makers around the world five things, this is what they would be:

1.     A position doesn’t automatically result in influence. Position may give you authority, but it will never give you influence. That is a gift others give you as you earn their trust and they buy into your vision for a better tomorrow.

2.     You can (and should) influence change from right where you. Don’t wait for someone to give you permission. Act on what you are passionate about in a creative, positive, and productive way.

3.     Influence is something you can leverage every day. The words you use, the people you meet, the opportunities you accept, these are all moments when you can influence change. There are one thousand small moments that lead up to any one big moment.

4.     Change is a target you move toward one step at a time. Define the change you want to see take place. Then determine what you can do today to take a step toward that goal.

5.     Be present today instead of waiting for the future. The future doesn’t exist. All you have is today. Stop wishing for something that might happen and start taking advantage of the opportunities you have today.

Don’t let your “somedays” turn into regret.

Every person has a unique gift—a divine design—that is intended to elevate the world in some specific and relevant way. It’s up to you to accept the adventure that is before you. It’s not something that happens in the future; it’s now.

As I’m getting older, I see and recognize what regret looks like. I meet people who feel like it’s too late in life for them to make a change, learn something new, or act on the dreams they had when they were young. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

You don’t need a position to influence change. You need passion, focus, clarity, and conviction. If you have those things, then you can create change right where you are—today.

REFLECT: What change do you want to see take place in the world? Why is that change important to you? What could you do in the next 30 days to influence that change?