A common view of leaders is that they are the people who have assumed a certain position – the manager, the executive, the elected official. Being part of this community, you know that’s not the case – anyone in any position can be a leader. Regardless of position, what is the job of a leader and what does a leader get paid for? To put it more directly, what do you get paid for?
Take the case you get paid for making a new future happen. Bringing about a future beyond what’s currently predictable. Causing a new reality. If you look at those you admire as leaders, that’s what they did and do. Gandhi brought about self-rule in India. Steve Jobs opened up a new world of digital devices. Maybe one of your friends ensured that one of their children was the first one in the family to go to university. These are the types of people we see as real leaders – the ones that generate a future that wasn’t going to happen anyway.
To accomplish this, we need a particular relationship to the future. For most of us, our relationship to the future is a mix of hope and worry. We hope for the best and worry about the worst. There is nothing wrong with that way of relating to the future, it just has a particular impact. It perpetuates more of what has come before – business as usual.
To create a new future, we need a different relationship to the future – one of commitment. First a commitment to the new future being possible because I say so, not because of the circumstances. If you look at the leaders you admire, and even in your own experience, the circumstances were against them, at the beginning and at times along the way. They prevailed because they said it was possible, regardless of the circumstances. Gandhi, Jobs, your friend – they had to prevail against difficult circumstances.
The second type of commitment is action. Taking action consistent with what you say is possible. This gets expressed in making promises that will help you achieve what you say is possible and then taking action. When leaders fall short, which they inevitably do at times, they acknowledge the shortfall, make a new promise and take new actions.
Is this easy? No. All the leaders I know regularly confront falling short on their promises. They get knocked down by the circumstances. When that happens, they get up, renew their commitment and move forward; taking ownership of the shortfalls rather than blaming the circumstances.
I invite you to review the new futures you are currently at work on and consider – what new future will I realize today? What can I make happen today that wasn’t going to happen anyway?