America remains locked in a vicious presidential election as voters consider their candidates for the Oval Office. As an adviser to Sen. John McCain, Gov. Sarah Palin, two four-star generals, three CEOs of Global Fortune 500 companies, and a Press Secretary on Capitol Hill, I have seen what it takes to be a true leader.
Over the course of my life, I have been privileged to know, meet, and work with a number of influential leaders. They weren’t all well known, wealthy, or powerful, but they were leaders nonetheless. Why? Because great leaders can be ordinary people who inspire us to do extraordinary things
Leadership is not about a title, but about one’s ability to inspire another person to greatness
Titles can be impressive, but they don’t inspire people. People inspire people—the things that they do and say—not the title that they possess. True leadership is about telling someone about who they can be and what they can achieve. Therefore, that person can be a mom or a dad, a teacher, a friend, even a stranger.
My great grandmother was a sharecropper and a maid. She only had an 8th grade education. But she told my mother that she could go to college. And she did. My mother attended Howard University in Washington, D.C. Despite never having the experience, my great grandmother had a vision for her granddaughter and she guided her towards that future. No “title” required.
What I have learned from Senator John McCain, and how he managed adversity with tenacity, humility and humor
Sen. McCain taught me that the only thing you truly control in the world are your words, your actions and your attitude. I’d left a plum assignment on the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal to work for Sen. McCain. A few months later, his presidential campaign imploded!
We were all in the doldrums. Staff was let go. We’d gone from frontrunner to dead in the water overnight. But Sen. McCain was calm, he joked with reporters and quoted Chairman Mao, “It’s always darkest before it’s completely black.”
No longer chauffeured on private planes, his entourage gone, he went back to flying coach and carrying his own bags. He never let the circumstances change his attitude or his determination. It wasn’t the end; it was simply a new beginning that resulted in him winning the Republican nomination.
The telltale signs of a bad leader
Two things. How often they say “me” and start sentences with “I.” How much they protect and promote their personal interests rather than the interest of the people they are leading.
Three steps every person can take to become a great leader
Develop a simple and inclusive vision of the future. Serve others. Focus on helping other people shine. Empower individuals. Invest in someone else’s success and growth.
The number one mistake that a leader can make
The number one mistake a leader can make is lacking a clear and inclusive vision of the future. People look to leaders to tell them who they can be and why they matter. In the absence of a vision, individuals tend to define and work to satisfy their personal short-term needs, resulting in an organization without a clear direction, inefficient and chaotic. Great leaders learn to manage their fears to advance their ambitions not stifle them. In World War II, Churchill used his fear of the rise of fascism to galvanize the war effort in Great Britain and persuade an isolationist America to assume its role as a global superpower. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, Churchill’s predecessor, allowed his fear of a war as costly and bloody as World War I to appease Hitler.
How great leaders can paint a bright vision of the future and then empower others to create it
Great leaders paint a bright vision of the future by using their words to communicate expectations and telling people who they can be. They inspire us with their words, attitude and actions. They invest faith in others and celebrate their success as the most valuable return on their investment.
Fear can be the primary reason people never become the leaders that they were made to be
Fear serves a purpose. It serves as the brakes in life. Don’t climb too high. You might fall. Don’t drive too fast. You might crash. Don’t venture too far. You’ll get lost. Leaders experience fear, but they often use their fear to propel them rather than paralyze them. Because what leaders fear the most is never knowing what could have been. It’s the way a person negotiates their fear and what he or she achieves as a result of it that distinguishes them as leaders.