10/24/2010 02:23 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Rethinking Our Conception of Leadership

On Nov. 6 and 7, I will be a speaker amongst many inspirational speakers in a conference called "Leaders Causing Leaders." Would you join us? Click here for more information.

When I spoke to the organizer Kenneth Schwenker, he told me that the mission of the conference is to activate the leader in each one of us, to inspire us to produce at least 10 specific projects and actions that will make a difference in some of the issues that the we are all dealing with in this world. A large part of the conference will be inspiring teenagers to make a difference in their communities and to be leaders in their own way. People are already posting visions of what their individual projects will be, as well as the support they will need to realize them. You can also post your own project or vision. This conference on leadership got me thinking about how I define a true leader, what inspires me, and what leadership means in my life.

I remember what my mother used to say. She would always say that you are either a leader or you're being led. And if you are led, be aware of who you are following and where they are leading you. Make sure you're being led to where you would like to end up. My mother wasn't talking about leadership from the outside. She was talking about how we allow our thoughts, emotions and actions, as well as other peoples' actions, to affect us. Either they lead us to the results we want or they make us spiral down in a direction that we don't really want. Most likely, we end up feeling victimized, thinking, "Why is this happening to me?"

What sets leaders apart is their ability to go for the vision of their desired outcome, no matter the resistance, the obstacles or the challenges. They do not second-guess their actions with thoughts like, "That's impossible," or, "It's never happened before," or, "What if people disapprove?" They possess a radical courage. The truth is that when we have someone's best interest at heart, the leader in us awakens. However, if we only care for ourselves and our own self-promotion, the leader within us sleeps. When the need to serve others is elevated, leadership emerges from caring, and from a direct connection to the heart. When we have the motivation to serve, the leader inside awakens because a leader causes change rather than being affected by what others are causing. I want to tell you a story that illustrates this point.

This summer I was in Greece working on a documentary on the Greek gods. For one of the shots, we were at a lovely vineyard that was taken care of by Mr. Vasilios. At some point during the shoot, we needed nails to hang something on a beam in the courtyard, but we didn't have any nails. I asked Mr. Vasilios if he had any nails. He said he didn't, but then he looked up in the air, paused and said, "Nails...hmmm...let me see." He looked down to the right where there was a little stool, pulled it apart and, to our amazement, produced six nails. Mr. Vasilios wanted so strongly to serve our need in that moment that he saw nails where none of us could see them. But of course, he was the caretaker of the vineyard. Day after the day, he was harvesting and taking care of the land. Caring was in Mr. Vasilios' DNA.

If we awaken that caring in ourselves, then we are connected to each other, and we respond to someone else's need. We are able to find solutions that are not immediately apparent to the eye but are hidden like the nails in Mr. Vasilios' stool. At that point, we transcend the ego and our small selves. It is not a matter of "look what I am doing" but rather "look what is being done through me." Then we can produce the kind of energy that can part the Red Sea. When we hear the calling and our caring is awakened, we respond, and then we are able to find solutions.

In some unconscious way, we have been programmed to think that something will happen outside ourselves that will change our lives. As the crises that we are facing in the world increase, from the economy to the environment, we are always searching for the leaders out there. We live our lives by the way our leaders run our government, giving up our control and leadership. But we still have a choice to become our own leaders. Consider this: what if each one of us, regardless of the circumstances in our lives, grabbed onto the core of our own leadership without looking for leadership outside?

It takes courage to step up to leadership, to the leader within, because it begins first in our inner environment. It is a calling to the better angels of our natures. It requires a sort of ruthlessness, an ability to sacrifice the lesser parts of ourselves. When we harness our inner authority and call forward the better parts of ourselves, it is then (and only then) that we realize that we are not alone. We have the allegiance of a higher intelligence and a spiritual power available to us. That way we become producers of the goodness for all.

I think knowing how to be a leader is nothing more than hearing the calling of what needs to be done and stepping out of our own limited thinking pattern to serve a bigger need. Leadership means letting ourselves move beyond the fear of being rejected or failing and stepping into the innate ability we have to lead. Then we find nails where we thought there were none.

How are you leading yourself? How are you helping others manifest? What are you involved in to bring about change in the world? Who do you see that is making a difference? Share your stories, and let's amplify the conversation to awaken the leader inside.