“What makes a great leader?” A frequently-asked question, indeed. Experts have long considered the characteristics of great leaders, in order to understand how they are developed. Are individuals born with certain attributes that make them great leaders? Is there a genetic predisposition to leadership? What role do education and social environment play in the development of leaders? All valid questions.
One thing that most leaders have in common is opportunity. A void to be filled. A cause to be won. A wrong that must be made right. An innovation to be introduced. Nowhere is this more apparent than in American history.
Consider the military. Washington. Grant. Eisenhower. Each of them rose to greatness, in part, due to their opportunity to lead American forces in the Revolutionary, Civil and Second World Wars, respectively. Had they already achieved prior to those opportunities? Significantly so. But, they excelled as they led America through dark days of war.
Consider politics. Lincoln, the perpetual loser of elections, finally won one only to be faced with the hardest decisions ever made by an American President. Roosevelt, overcoming immense physical challenges, brought America out of the Great Depression and displayed unbelievable will as we entered World War II. Reagan inherited a nation with a real inferiority complex that many thought was dying and brought “morning to America again.”
Consider social justice. Our nation’s history is filled with stories of those who inspired a nation to overcome injustice. Dr. King and the peaceful way that he protested racial inequity. Susan B. Anthony and her passion to see that women had the right to vote. In Arkansas, we understand deeply the courage of Daisy Bates as she led nine teenagers to make an earth-shattering stand in Little Rock in 1957.
Consider business. John D. Rockefeller began amassing the greatest personal fortune the world has ever known by standardizing the way kerosene was produced, packaged and delivered to homes in the late 19th century. The “standard” in Standard Oil was born of that opportunity. Henry Ford put America “on the road” by revolutionizing the way automobiles were made with his assembly line. Gates and Jobs led us into the most fascinating of American times by creating personal computing and along the way showed us a thing or two about competition in corporate America.
The list goes on. Educational leaders. Religious leaders. Leaders in arts and invention.
It’s interesting to consider if Bill Gates would have been as great a leader as John Rockefeller, had he been born in 1839. Would Lincoln be the leader that America, indeed the world, needs today? Would Susan B. Anthony have been a great President had she lived today, instead of having to fight slavery and suffrage? Would Eisenhower have accomplished the same level of success had he been a contemporary of Washington?
We will never know the answers to those questions. It may not even be worth our time to consider them. However, we can KNOW that they were leaders in their day, at their time, facing the challenges of the world as they knew it. They each made the most of THEIR opportunity!
Are you looking to create leaders today? As a parent? As an educator? As a manager? If so, there are many factors to consider. But, one thing is sure: you must help them understand how to recognize opportunity. Opportunity comes in many forms. It is my belief that every challenge – no matter how large or small – creates an opportunity for someone to lead.
It’s your choice. Sit back and wait for someone to hand you an opportunity. Or go find it yourself! I hope that you’ll go find it. As you are doing so, remember: commit to making every day a good day!
Just Good Days, folks!