10/25/2010 12:33 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Be the First to Stand Up

We've all done it. We've all been in a crowd, listening to a rousing speaker, eager to give him/her a standing ovation. However, when the speech ends, we find ourselves looking around to our peers, waiting to see how others react. If others begin to stand, we think, so will we. However, if no one else does, we demur, despite the fact that our sentiment towards the speaker is no different. It is this manifestation of collective inaction that affects all of us, and one that must be changed in order to truly inspire society and cultivate the leader in each and every one of us.

The power of collective inaction is tremendous and percolates every facet of our lives, even if we don't consciously realize it. We've all stood in front a television, watching news of the latest tragedy or injustice in the world. It has pulled at our hearts, made us think twice about our lives, and immediately inspired us to do something to help. However, when it comes time for action, we choose to instead turn off the television and move on with our everyday lives.

At business school, the hesitancy to be the first to stand is omnipresent, despite the fact that such an institution is designed to build leaders. Students seek professional careers en masse at employers that offer a low-risk, high-paying career track, rather than pursue an entrepreneurial venture or a profession that offers high risks, high rewards, or large responsibilities. Though family and financial considerations account for some of this trend, a large portion is simply a fear of straying from a typical "business" track.

Today, I'm writing to tell you that each and every one of us should strive to be the first to stand up. In today's society, we are often so afraid of the judgment of others that we suppress expressing what we truly believe in favor of social acceptance. As a result, the few who actually exhibit the bravery to stand up to the status quo are often marginalized as radicals or "hippies."

In reality, however, those who made the choice to "stand up" are the very people who have shaped our history and advanced our society. Rosa Parks, instead of enduring continued racism, stood up to defend herself, inspiring a social movement. Oskar Schindler, rather than sit back and allow oppression of the Jewish people, took a strong stand against a grave injustice. Indeed, it was a select few Americans in the 1700s who decided the mistreatment of the British was too much to take that fostered the beginnings of our independence today.

When we are among a crowd, we can hear the inner voice of the leader within us when we consider being the first to act. Next time you find yourself in this situation, reflect on the countless people in our society who made history by listening to their inner voices and changed the world. You have the ability, too. Now is the time to take action against inaction.