For the majority of my life, I have been blessed to have wonderful teachers, coaches, and role models. These teachers didn't always come in the classroom either, they oftentimes came in unwelcome forms, such as a difficult boyfriend, a disagreeable teammate or coworker, a class bully, an unhappy client, etc.
The world is a complete wealth of knowledge, and it is oftentimes the people and situations we tend to avoid that can teach us the most and promote our own growth the best.
On a congruent note, there is a strange paradox that we have run into this past year in terms of leadership. An air of hypocrisy, double standards, and lack of appropriate role models to look up to hangs in the air, from our current president on down.
We all need to stop settling for what society has deemed to be a normal standard – doing the minimum, instant gratification, limited accountability, mediocrity, discrimination, laziness, sexism, and the list goes on.
Our world needs great leaders, and that starts with each and every one of us. Here are some summarizations of things I've read and experienced that have helped me immensely in my own quest for self-growth.
1. Be Who You Say You Are
This is an important character quality to possess. No one respects someone who says one thing and then does the opposite, that's obvious right?
To lead others, you must take an inside-out approach, meaning you first need to be able to lead yourself. This requires discipline, commitment, openness to change, and the willingness to grow.
A famous quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson reads, "What you are shouts so loudly in my ears, I cannot hear what you say", or as we would say in modern times, walk it like you talk it.
"What you are shouts so loudly in my ears, I cannot hear what you say." – Ralph Waldo Emerson
2. Don't Compare
There is a beautiful saying, "Comparison is the thief of joy." How simple and true is that? If we live comparing ourselves to our peers, to social expectations of who we should be, or to our own glorified self-image, we will continually be disappointed.
This is one area I admit I have really struggled with through my twenties and it has robbed me of self-confidence and happiness too many times.
Some of the most influential and effective people I've read about or met all agree, don't waste energy or focus measuring yourself up to anyone else, keep your eyes forward and only measure yourself against who you were yesterday.
To grow, we must take advantage of the lessons and opportunities we are given everyday!
"Measure yourself only to who you were yesterday."
3. Lead so others may follow
If you are in a leadership position now, and were to experience a day through the eyes of someone who works under you or looks up to you, would you like what you saw?
Would you be a leader that you would like to follow and who treats others how you would like to be treated? All of these are important questions to continually ask yourself, as power can play negatively on our human tendencies and has potential to cause complacency, ego inflation, and blindness.
An outstanding leader will radiate integrity, empathy, justice, patience, and humility. An outstanding leader will expect of themselves what they expect of others, and are lighthouses in the darkest of storms.
They get people to follow because they are willing to do even the most simple and "puny" of tasks to accomplish the overall team goal. They are willing to deeply listen, and provide direction when needed.
Finally, an outstanding leader will push people to be better by showing them how, not dragging them along like a tugboat, trying to get them to where they want to go.
Ben Franklin, the man influential enough to be on the one hundred dollar bill, wrote and worked to abide by the character ethics above. If were good enough for the man whose face is now on literally hundreds of bills and helped shaped our nation, they are probably good enough for us.
"An outstanding leader will expect of themselves what they expect of others, and are lighthouses in the darkest storms."
4. Be able to self reflect
I will just open this section by shamelessly saying that no one likes a know-it-all. I will be the first to admit that the majority of the principles outlined in this post have not come from my own experiences.
5. Make excellence a habit
The final take away from this post, is the age old principle that we are what we repeatedly do. Your thoughts lead to your beliefs, which lead to your actions, which become your character.
No matter how small or unimportant a task may seem, our resolve to do everything to the best of our ability creates habits of excellence.
Thus, something as small as tying your shoes properly to as large as leading a team to a championship, should be done as best as we can.
If you make excellence a habit, and not just a now and then decision, you will become the author of your life and not the victim of circumstance, "bad luck", or the hardships that you've endured because of other people. That's a leader right there!
We are capable of being leaders, but like many things, leadership is a skill that must be cultivated through trails, preparation, and experience.
You simply can't just talk about being a role model, about how well you motivate people, about your servitude and empathy towards others, or your ability to make others better.
These are great points for a resume, but unless you are actually living, breathing, and doing these things every single day, you are just talker. And baby, talk is cheap.