By Scott Westerman
“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.“ –Ralph Waldo Emerson
Anyone who aspires to lead quickly learns that leadership is a lonely business. From the moment you are tapped for the job, everything you say and do is deconstructed, debated, derided and second guessed. Make a decision and you’ll please some, anger others and bewilder everyone else.
Now imagine being a leader in uncertain times, when the very underpinnings of our paradigms of right and wrong are being tested. If you’re an authentic leader you want to do the right thing. But the moment you decide on a path you begin to wonder if you have made the right decision.
These are the things that go on inside the heart of every leader. Things others rarely witness, because we’re trained early on to never let anyone see us as anything other than confident, tenacious and self assured, even as we may feel fear, uncertainty and doubt in the darkest recesses of our most private thoughts.
So what is it that inspires a leader to get up early every morning and face the dragons, demons and demagogues again and again? I think it has everything to do with idealism.
Leaders have the vision to see things as they really are, but the heart to dream of what could be.
Leaders see problems as opportunities, they see the potential for good in the most troubled souls, and they refuse to accept defeat as anything more than a temporary situation.
Leaders face up to the unpleasant realities of our current state, but never lose faith that goodness, honesty and authenticity will always prevail.
Leaders set unrealistic expectations for everyone around them. But no more unrealistic than the expectations they set for themselves.
Leaders make course corrections. They reinvent themselves and their organizations to take advantage of a favorable wind. But they never ever give up.
It’s easy for a follower to throw stones at a leader. Most leaders make themselves easy targets. They speak up. They take a stand. They dare to question convention in pursuit of the greater good. We criticize, complain and often try to destroy our leaders. But we are also the first to wish that someone would have the courage to stand in front of us, facing the maelstrom of life head-on, showing us the way.
In the end, there is no other option than leadership. We are in control of our destinies, whether we like it or not. We’ll ultimately get back exactly what we invest in the world around us. Our current situation reflects that maxim that we’re all self made… but only the successful among us are willing to admit it.
Our ability to experience achievement and happiness is totally up to us.
So be an idealist. Believe that you can personally contribute to a better world. Believe in unrealistic expectations. And build a foundation of faith that will help you attack the most uncomfortable tasks with energy, enthusiasm and hope.
When you are given the choice to lead, follow or get out of the way. Choose leadership.
Scott Westerman has been a broadcaster, cable television executive and entrepreneur. In 2010 he joined the MSU Alumni Association as Associate Vice President for Alumni Relations & Executive Director. He is a 1978 graduate of Michigan State University.
This blog post was originally featured on http://www.scottwesterman.com and has been used by the author’s permission.