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January 09 2014

On (Love) Leadership: What Real Leaders Do

The first critical thing about leadership, I have found, is separating leaders from leadership.

·       Leaders can be managers with a great title.

·       Leaders can win elections.

·       Leaders can get promoted because they knew the right people.

·       Leaders can even be self-appointed.

·       Leaders can have an outstanding technical expertise, which can give them an outsized expertise in his or her chosen field.

All of this is great, by the way, but respectfully, this is not leadership. 

Leadership is a completely different thing. Leaders can simply sit on things, or maybe even effectively run things, but leadership creates things, recreates things, and as my president and COO Bill Walbrecher would say, "re-imagines" things, and in the present moment. I would go further, and say that real leaders emerge "in response" to crisis. 

What I have found is that real leaders, and real leadership manages pain, well. To quote my friend Fred D. Smith, "the key to life is to effectively manage pain. The pain we create for ourselves, and the pain visited upon us by others."

Dr. King was not passionate about civil rights, per se. He was a trained theologian with a Ph.D, and he would spend an average of 18 hours over a week's time, planning out a sermon for his church. But when that call came, and he was thrust into leadership that day in Montgomery, Alabama, he did not hesitate. He called forth the energy and threw out the rule book. The man who took 18 hours in a week to prepare an average sermon, did his first for the movement with about 30 minutes advanced notice --- and spent part of that time on his knees praying. 

Dr. King's first speech on that momentous day in Montgomery, was not his best, but it was his best on that day. The fact is, he made it -- he showed up in life (his own and others) -- and he acted in that moment; and that is half the bargain. 

Dr. King realized something else valuable about real leaders, and leadership, which is that we should never let the best, be the death of the good. Do...something, and sort the rest out as you go. 

Steve Jobs never knew how to create computer code, or program a computer, and he never actually graduated from college, but he never gave up. And he never, ever failed to act. 

I love the LinkedIn founder’s quote (that I read in my mentor Ambassador Andrew Young's last book), when he said, "if you are not slightly embarrassed by your 1.0 software release, you released too late." 

I agree, which is why I value action over merely "thinking and pondering about things," forever. People think and ponder about things, and then re-think and ponder again about things, trying desperately to work through imperfections, until a level of perfection is reached. The problem is, perfection for us mere-mortals is largely out of reach. Which also means, people obsessed with perfection, never act. 

I guess what I'm saying, is that your intuition matters, more than your mind. Your faith and belief system matters even more than that. Your innate passion matters more than your chosen profession. That loss creates leaders. That Ph.D's matter, but Ph.Do's matter more. 

That rainbows only follow storms. And while many may call themselves leaders, or demand that you and others do, you will know true leadership when you see it. 

It is the person acting on his or her ideas, and beliefs, and not merely the ones having them. Those, are the winners in life.


Operation HOPE founder, chairman and CEO, John Hope Bryant was recently named a LinkedIn Influencer.  He will be contributing on a monthly basis and you can follow him here. This is his first article.