We are living in times of the greatest opportunity ever experienced in human history. The changes taking place today, and over the next several years, are creating opportunity and access to markets around the world like never before. Technological innovation is a game changer. No one has exclusive distribution or access to marketing channels. The whole world can operate 24/7 and global emerging markets are anxious to evolve and develop.
We talk about the gap between the haves and the have-nots. We talk about the education gap, the achievement gap, and the income gap. But the gap that will drive innovation, creativity, and socio-economic development all over the world will be closing the leadership gap. We have a leadership challenge worldwide. According to Aon Consulting, nearly 60 percent of U.S. companies are facing leadership talent shortages. Globalization has made the competition for leadership rigorous at every level. In a 2010 study conducted by Deloitte, nearly three in four executives surveyed predicted talent shortages in research and development, a key area that drives innovation.
We have to understand the nature of true leadership to close the leadership gap. True leaders are not looking to posture; true leaders are looking to make a difference and to fulfill their mission in life. A person may be successful in their business, community, or family, but the trait that sets strong leaders apart is the search for significance in their work. The excitement created by their purpose driven attitude attracts others to join their mission.
Consider Nelson Mandela's sense of purpose as he struggled against apartheid. While defending himself against charges of incitement, Mandela asserted, "I was made, by the law, a criminal, not because of what I had done, but because of what I stood for, because of what I thought, because of my conscience." Mandela's genuine resolve to remedy injustice inspired others to stand up with him -- even when his country declared him criminal. Authentic leadership strives for significance. You can be successful but not significant; however, you cannot be significant without being successful.
People confuse external tokens of fame, status, wealth, and power with leadership ability. A self-serving thirst for achievement, whether for a title, a position, or financial status, does not translate to a capacity for leadership. Calling on people only when you need something is the mark of weak character. When people help you only because they have to, which eventually spurs others to avoid dealing with you altogether, your growth and strength will be limited. "Wanna-be" leaders find no value in their work beyond the bounds of their own ego.
Leaders build, connect, and maintain relationships because they understand the value of organization, self-empowerment and service. Leaders build partnerships long before they need them -- partnership is a two-way street; a leader can ask, but he must also give. By developing alliances and support teams, leaders expand their areas of influence. Leadership can be defined by the power of your influence. Your influence is developed by knowing who you are, where you are going, and how you are going to get there. The most important relationship for effective leadership is an honest relationship with the self. You must be able to lead and understand yourself before you can lead others.
Vision allows us to think in terms of what is possible, and not be limited by what is present. Leaders who possess the valuable combination of vision and wisdom can nearly predict the future -- their mistakes will be rare, which draws others toward them to seek their advice and counsel. People who think carefully through the consequences of their actions before moving forward are wisely measuring the distance toward their goal. Strong leaders understand the value of having clarity, which means they spend a great deal of time thinking about their objectives and setting the priorities to get there. As Gandhi said, "A man is but the product of his thoughts; what he thinks, he becomes."
Leadership to me is simply "doing something." It is not being a part of the status quo or part of the crowd. Leadership is doing anything, large or small, that adds meaningful value to the world. Leaders take action - they do not ask for approval to take initiative. Followers are waiting for someone else to tell them what to do -- they are afraid to think for themselves. Leadership can be demonstrated in a simple act, like picking a piece of paper off the ground and putting it in the trash. Many people could have picked up the same piece of paper but did not. Every person has the chance to demonstrate action in need, but few embrace the opportunity to act. Leadership is everything.