We look to leaders to drive results, to set the tone for an organization’s culture, to think strategically, and use high levels of discernment and judgment to ensure they are setting and maintaining the best possible path forward. Cultivating high performance habits, and demonstrating the discipline of leadership throughout one’s career is no small feat. However, even those high standards do not quite capture what we can, and should expect of our leaders. Nor do they capture the scope of what they should expect of themselves.
Leadership today does not exist in a vacuum. On the contrary, leaders need to understand situations and circumstances as holistic and integrated systems. Being a successful leader is more than increasing profits or achieving strategic outcomes. Being a leader in today’s world means having an eye for the bigger prize, the larger impact; the way in which your leadership can impact society and humanity as a whole.
Leaders have an obligation not only to their organization’s success, but also to themselves. In living the best version of themselves, in always seeking to improve, to learn and to grow as an individual and therefore as a leader, they are also able to bring more to their organizations and society as a whole. Talented, creative, ambitious people are the ones that drive us all forward. Leaders have a moral obligation to do more than ‘just their jobs’. We need them, our future needs them, humanity needs them to be the best they can possibly be, to contribute as much as they possibly can.
Too much, you say? An unfair burden to place on high performing individuals who are already outpacing and out performing?
No, it’s not.
JFK was known for his ‘rising tide’ comment, related to the economy at the time. However, JFK was also painfully aware for the need his leadership to extend not just to the economy and jobs, but to society, to social justice, to expanding science, to challenging his country’s contributions to humanity as a whole. “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” was his challenge to his fellow Americans. He understood that the challenge of his leadership extended not just to his Presidency, but to the potential impact he could inspire and push his countrymen to embrace and create.
Kennedy also understood the power of history, and his (and our country’s) place in it. As leaders, we have the opportunity to look at our contributions from a variety of contexts and perspectives. How can our contributions (and the contributions of our organizations) contribute to mankind as a whole? What lasting legacy are we actually leading towards?
“From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded” (Luke 12:48)
For those with the calling to serve as leaders, whether to the corporate, non-profit, small business, government or elsewhere, it is not enough to simply focus your efforts on your bottom line or results. When you have the drive to lead, you have the responsibility to take your impact as far and as wide as you can.
I’m a firm believer, that ‘if you can, you should’! I challenge my coaching clients to think of how they can increase their impact, how they can go farther, help more people, improve processes, reach beyond their current sphere of achievement and influence.
Leaders are both born, and they are made. Leaders can be deeply flawed in their personal lives, and yet still rise to the challenges of their professional obligations and more. I’m not saying they are martyrs, nor am I saying they are perfect. Not all leaders have Mother Theresa’s moral compass. However, they likely do possess courage.
Leaders that become truly distinguished use their gifts and drive, not just for the challenges immediately in front of them, but to push and drive towards an impact beyond the obvious, beyond arms reach, and beyond what even they may have imagined possible.
Leadership is a calling to be the rising tide.
The calling may begin with small, achievable goals. But inevitably, those who strive for greatness, those who challenge themselves to push their own limitations and the limitations of others, reach a point where they must choose to either acknowledge their broader, societal impact and embrace it, or shun it.
We see this in CEO’s and entrepreneurs using their influence to speak out on the challenges of our day. They are funding projects outside the scope of their normal business activities. They are mentoring and supporting the development of solutions for problems beyond their own assembly lines or staffing structure. They are cultivating and mentoring a mindset of service that benefits society far beyond the impact of their own bottom line.
That is leadership.
Leaders push the boundaries of their authority, and they do it knowing they will face resistance. Ashton Kutcher leaving his ‘day job’ as an actor to fight human trafficking. Bill and Melinda Gates funding global health and education programs. Sheryl Sandburg taking a time away from the boardroom to support others in dealing with grief. Howard Schultz putting the business of coffee on hold to call attention to call attention to our fraying moral fabric. These individuals are challenging their roles, and they are doing so in the spirit of connecting with and achieving something greater than themselves.
Yes, they are ruffling feathers through their work. Yes, they are challenging what we think their ‘role’ should be. And yes, they are also helping to push the boundaries of what is possible when we act courageously and use our humanity as our guide.
Leaders understand that their ultimate success lies not just in a simple measure of profitability. It lies in the ripple impact of the positive contributions they put out into the broader world. The next generation of leaders that have been supported and mentored, the creative solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems; the thoughtful navigation of complex social issues, and other contributions are all bi-products of expansive, altruistic and certainly impactful leadership.
Now those ripples don’t start off as earth-shatteringly obvious contributions.
They start by small, cumulative actions that all contribute to that ‘rising tide’.
By the way, who are these ‘leaders’ that I’m talking about? Could you be among them?
Yes! I’m talking about YOU! I’m talking about all of us!
All of us have something to contribute, and imagine what would happen to the world if we did!
How are you contributing to the rising of the tide? You don’t have to be a CEO or a celebrity to leave your positive mark on the world. With so much negativity in the world, your contributions, your positivity, your leadership means everything!
Let’s challenge each other to be that rising tide, to be the change we want to see.
If not you, then who?