The One Leader I Look Up to in the World

Extraordinary Leadership

As a speaker, one of the speaking programs I offer is Extraordinary Leadership. The program consists of three main parts: extraordinary leadership throughout history, extraordinary leadership from the experts, and you as an extraordinary leader. In my presentation, I make the argument that there’s a huge difference between leadership and extraordinary leadership. I believe that anyone, at any moment, can become a leader in different ways. But not everyone can become an extraordinary leader; leaders like George Washington, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Julius Caesar. There’s a difference between every day leaders, and leaders who will be remembered for thousands of years.

I was giving my Extraordinary Leadership presentation to an entrepreneurship club at CSU-Pueblo a few years ago, and someone posed a question to me: who is one leader in our world today that you look up to? My answer shocked everyone. My answer was, no one. I said I felt that the world’s last extraordinary leader was Steve Jobs. There is no doubt about it, Steve Jobs was a horrible human being. But he was able to achieve extraordinary things, and more importantly, influence others to achieve extraordinary things.

As I look around the world today though, I don’t view anyone as an extraordinary leader. I believe that is the world’s number one problem: we lack extraordinary leadership. The caliber of people we have in leadership roles has gone down significantly. In order for us to move the world forward and to evolve into the future, it takes something special, something extraordinary. Right now, the world is clouded by a feeling of stagnation.

“I learned that history is shaped by the use of power, and that different people, leading the same army, with, therefore, approximately the same power, applied it so differently that the army seemed to change from a pack of noble fools at Fredericksburg to panicked cowards melting away at Chancellorsville, then to the grimly determined, stubborn soldiers who held the ridges at Gettysburg, and then, finally, to the disciplined, professional army that ground Lee to dust in Grant’s long campaign. It wasn’t the soldiers who changed. It was the leader. And even though I could not then have articulated what I understood about military leadership, I knew that I did understand it. I understood, at levels deeper than speech, how a great military leader imposes his will on his enemy, and makes his own army a willing extension of himself.” – Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game

You may ask, why don’t we have extraordinary leaders anymore? I think it comes down to three things:

  1. We’ve started settling for average. If you look at our most recent presidential election, almost no one was firmly set on one candidate. What I heard most often was, “I didn’t like either candidate, so I had to choose the lesser of two evils.” It’s vitally important that we begin to hold our leaders to higher standards again. If we fail to do so, we will only move backwards, and that could be catastrophic.
  1. We don’t seek out our own potential. There’s a story I once heard about a man who dies and goes to heaven. When he gets to heaven, he asks God, “Who was the greatest leader to ever live?” God points to the person who was the man’s neighbor when he was alive. The man says, “Hey, I know that guy! He didn’t do anything special?” God says, “You’re right, because he never became what he was meant to be.” Whether you believe in God or not, the lesson is still the same: we all have unlimited potential, but the majority of people never become all that they could be. It’s time we stop settling for average and challenge not only ourselves, but everyone around us to become extraordinary.
  1. There’s more noise in the world now. I have over 1,000 friends on Facebook, 600 connections on LinkedIn, and I follow over 300 people on Twitter and over 400 people on Instagram. All I see all day, on multiple platforms, is everyone sharing their opinion on every event in the world, little or big; relevant or irrelevant. In the days of George Washington, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Julius Caesar, their voices were easily heard over the masses. Now, every single individual in the masses has a voice. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the question is: how does one get heard over all of the noise? How do we find high-quality ideas in the midst of the chaos? I’ve talked with people who say it’s not possible. The world is just simply too noisy now to create meaningful change, and for extraordinary leaders to be heard. I have a different belief. I believe the cream always rises to the top. If your beliefs and ideas can consistently capture the imaginations and hearts of other people, then you will be heard. We just need those extraordinary few to step up and make their mark.

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