A leader is a person with a magnet in his heart and a compass in his head.
- Vance Hainer
In an address to the Corps of Cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, General H. Norman Schwarzkopf spoke about the importance of leadership and service. Schwarzkopf said, “I’ve met a lot of leaders in the Army who were competent, but they didn’t have character. And for every job they did well, they sought reward in the form of promotions, in the form of awards and decorations, in the form of getting ahead at the expense of someone else, in the form of another piece of paper that awarded them another degree, a sure road to the top.
You see, these were competent people, but they lacked character. I’ve also met a lot of leaders who had superb character but who lacked competence. They weren’t willing to pay the price of leadership, to go the extra mile because that’s what it took to be a great leader.
And that’s sort of what it’s all about. To lead in the 21st century – to take soldiers, sailors, airmen into battle, you will be required to have both character and competence.” And this is the challenge for leaders today.
Developing leaders can read the latest books, attend trendy conferences, and watch every webcast, but at the end of the day, the great leadership speakers and writers cannot do anything for you until you take action for yourself. I have identified five specific things great leaders cannot do for you and why this is good.
Great leaders can’t speak with your voice. And this is the challenge for emerging leaders - to speak in their own voice. For years I have looked to and benefited from leadership mentors. And as influential as they have been, I would never be fulfilled as a leader if I lost my own voice in the process.
As you develop your leadership skills it is imperative not to lose your voice. Benjamin Disraeli said, “There is no index of character so sure as the voice.” Great leaders don’t speak with your voice nor do they speak with your passion. Own it. Develop it. And speak it.
Great leaders can’t pay your dues. Great leaders can challenge you, motivate you, inspire you, and help you renew your sense of purpose. They can impart hope and encourage you to fight another day. And as wonderful as these things are, you still have to take your personal journey in the school of leadership.
Your development as a leader evolves the way it does for all of us – through life experiences and paying your dues. Albert Einstein said, “There is only one road to true human greatness: through the school of hard knocks.” Take solace from the great leaders who have walked the trail before you, but understand that their dues are not transferable.
Great leaders can’t see your dreams. Great leaders can motivate and encourage you to pursue your dreams. They can give you formulas based on their successes and failures that can give you wisdom in your daily decisions. But you alone are the guardian of your dreams and what is required to turn them into reality.
Henry David Thoreau said, “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.” You see what the great leaders cannot. Hold true to your dreams and valiantly pursue them.
Great leaders can’t feel with your heart. Personal leadership is not just a product of what is in your head, but what is in your heart. Your leadership is manifest in ways that heal, inspire, build, promote, and touch your world in ways unknown to great leaders. Great leaders can show you the tools, but you are the one who must use them to create a masterpiece.
Helen Keller said, “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.” And this is the power of your dreams and who will be touched by your leadership.
Great leaders can’t reach your potential. Your influence as a leader exists by maximizing your gifts and abilities where you are planted. To the extent that there are things great leaders cannot do for you, you are in the driver’s seat as you fulfill your purpose as a leader.
As you speak with your own voice, pay your dues, see with your eyes, feel with your heart, and reach your potential, you will achieve a level of success that is worthy of distinction. This is where all great leaders begin.
© 2010 Doug Dickerson