More unlikely leaders walk the Earth than likely ones. This fact is counter intuitive and runs against the grain of popular opinion. But since the “world is flat,” it’s now more the case than it’s ever been. Unlikely leaders are ordinary people who sometimes accomplish extraordinary things. They’re leaders who achieve despite their weaknesses.
Sometimes the leader is the one you’d pick out of a crowd. But just as often the leader is the person you’d least expect. It’s these unlikely leaders who surprise us. They rise up in our midst time and again, demonstrating that anyone, anytime, anywhere can be a leader.
Even a lot of leadership recruitment searches miss would-be leaders. This happens because we look for people we think are leaders when we should look for people who can become leaders. We look too much at visible attributes and not enough at the invisible.
We should have learned by now that being a leader is not the exclusive domain of the rich and powerful, nor the famous or beautiful people. Being a leader isn’t reserved for the super talented or the V.I.Ps. It’s not just for men, adults, a given nationality, race, or ethnic group.
Leadership is not a mysterious talent only some people are “lucky” enough to acquire. Quite simply yet quite remarkably, leadership is a divine gift to us all. Actually, when you consider it, it’s pretty obvious some of the most revered and most remembered leaders were unlikely leaders in their day.
Abraham Lincoln’s story is known worldwide: humble beginning, perennial election loser, yet ultimately becoming arguably our greatest President in war or peace. Dave Thomas began life as an adoptive child, overcame a host of obstacles, and went on to build the globally successful Wendy’s hamburger chain.
George Foreman was a mean kid in the streets of Houston who demonstrated that work ethic, faith, and sheer desire can propel you forward. He became an Olympic gold medalist, twice the heavy weight champion of the world, a wealthy product pitchman, beloved personality, and pastor to a small church in his community.
So it can be done. We need unlikely leaders.
The Marines say “Wherever there are two Marines one of them is going to be a leader.” Great quote. Sure, the Marines have a lot of moxie, but you don’t have to be a Marine to know this maxim could apply to any group of two or more human beings.
Leaders set the stage and create targets for the rest of us.
“Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”
“I have a dream…”
“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
It’s not disrespectful to non-leaders, people called followers, to say “Things rise and fall on leadership.” Yes, we know leaders can’t accomplish a task alone. If they do, they’re not really leaders but loners. But even the Lone Ranger didn’t do it alone. Tonto or others are always involved. But leaders must be involved. This doesn’t mean “non-leaders” don’t matter. It simply means leadership always matters.
Unlikely leaders are just “regular people.” Not just superstars, spiritual giants, or braniacs. Not just Condoleezza Rice or Franklin Graham or Elizabeth Dole or Steven Jobs. Unlikely leaders emerge because they care about something beyond themselves. They stand out because they step up.
You can become an unlikely leader. It’s not rocket science. You don’t need a degree. You need purpose and passion. Stated another way, you need focus and a commitment to getting things done. You can become an unlikely leader in any field of endeavor by following or implementing a few principles. The choice is yours.
Unlikely Leadership Principles:
Character and competence count. While countenance-your looks-and connections-your network-are blessings, perhaps gifts to use, they become hollow without a clear conscience. Tiger Woods and John Edwards are distinctively talented individuals, but their leadership legacies will never be the same.
Use the talent you have. Don’t worry about talents you’re presumably lacking. Not everyone can throw a football 65 yards in the air or give an inspiring impromptu speech. Work with what God gave you.
Stand for something. Revered and remembered leaders are about more than themselves. Give others hope. Work for good. Lead when others are not yet following. Risk and ridicule are sometimes part of the experience of leadership, but so is reward. Change things. Dreamers dream. Leaders lead.
Rosa Parks is called by many the “Mother of the Modern Day Civil Right Movement.” She earned this sobriquet by a simple but profound act of courage and resolve. She was an unlikely leader but a leader nonetheless.
Unlikely leaders are special for the very reason they don’t care about being special. You can become an unlikely leader. Look within to find your passion. Look without to determine how you can make the world a better place. Then do it.