I swear if I read another blog about the leadership lessons of some famous leader, I’ll gag. I’d much rather read about real leaders whom you’ve actually been led by than read another glory post about Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin, Howard Schultz, or Sheryl Sandberg.
If the only examples of “true” leaders you can provide are famous people everyone already knows, you either lack imagination or leadership experience. Fame does not equate with leadership. Neither does entrepreneurialism. While a (rare) leader may be both, a leader doesn’t have to be either in order to qualify as a good leader.
Leadership is an aspirational concept. Aspiring to live into the ideals and example set by others can help strengthen one’s leadership abilities. Having leaders to look up to is a good thing. But when leadership gets too mixed up with fame, you become in danger of being let down in a big way. The famous leader you look up to today may be the leader you look down on when their fame goes away. Al Dunlap, Ivan Boesky, and Jeffrey Skilling were all admired business gods before they were sent to jail for all-too-human failings.
There are two problems with focusing our attention on famous leaders. First, the exceptional circumstances of the famous leader are so unique to that person that it’s unlikely that the lessons can be replicated. Second, if your only references for admirable leaders are those on the world-stage, you’ll miss the leaders in your own backyard. Leadership is local. There are wonderful leaders in our families, neighborhoods, and local community.
On any given day, a quick scan of your local hometown paper will reveal lots of worthy leaders. For example, I read about a chief deputy in my hometown of Asheville, North Carolina, who, along with the county rescue squad, marched against rape, sexual assault, and gender violence. The catch? The chief and the rescuers all marched in women’s high heels. The burly men “walk a mile” in women’s shoes to show solidarity with their cause. Fun, yes. But it’s good old fashioned leadership role modeling, too.
When you make your leadership radar more sensitive to local leadership, you can’t help but notice all the leaders around you. Here are a few examples from my hometown, but they just as easily have come from yours.
A 38-year old man starts up a nonprofit that matches his love of rock music with his desire to serve the poor. His aim is to interrupt poverty by organizing food drives with big-name entertainers who come to town. He had done something similar during his twenties when he quit his law job and traveled around the country conducting food drives at Widespread Panic concerts.
A teacher of special needs students refuses to administer standard state education tests that are designed for “normal” kids. He knows that doing so serves no purpose, and will frustrate or demoralize the kids. The kids’ parents, and much of the community, back him up. He gets fired anyway, but leaves with his integrity intact.
The owner of a successful computer repair business that employs 75 people started the business after attending the local community college. Her hardscrabble upbringing—including a drug-addicted mom, and not learning how to read or write until she was 14—rivals more “famous” leaders. Her business is known for giving generously to local charities.
Local leadership stories are powerful because they are much less remote, and much more accessible, than the stories of world-famous leaders. Why keep reading leadership lessons about Steve Jobs when there might be an admirable innovator in your own community? Leadership starts at home. Who are the leaders that are making a difference in your community? ■
About the Author:
Bill Treasurer is the author of Leaders Open Doors, which focuses on how leaders create growth through opportunity. Bill is also the author of Courage Goes to Work, an international bestselling book that introduces the concept of courage-building. He is also the author of Courageous Leadership: A Program for Using Courage to Transform the Workplace, an off-the-shelf training toolkit that organizations can use to build workplace courage. Learn more at www.giantleapconsulting.com or www.leadersopendoors.com.
Modern Contractor Solutions, January 2014
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