The term is almost over. I have had the privilege over the past three or so months to work with a group of seven emerging,young leaders. I have seen them grow in their leadership capabilities over this time. One of the requirements for the course that we are involved in together, is the examination of the lives of a number of historical and present-day leaders – men and women who have left lasting positive legacies. The framework question for the historical leaders project was: How did the leadership displayed by these leaders fit the Kouzes and Posner’s Five Practices of Exemplary Leaders model? According to Kouzes and Posner exemplary leaders: Model the Way, they Inspire a Shared Vision, they Challenge the Process, they Enable Others to Act and they Encourage the Hearts of their followers.
I had the opportunity recently, to sit at their feet and learn as three students made separate presentations on three of six leaders: Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela. It was quite clear from each presentations that despite their flaws and differences in style, each leader, in his/her practice was an exemplary leader. There were some other themes that ran thorough the three presentations:
- These leaders were not exceptional in the sense of being born in to wealth and privilege. They were ordinary people.
2. They each had a compelling vision for how the future could be different and better. Mother Teresa’s vision for loving and serving the poor in Calcutta is reflected in her statement: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love”. Nelson Mandela’s vision for an apartheid-free South Africa is expressed in this quote taken from his Rivona trial – “… I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal, which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die”. Martin Luther King Jr’s vision of an America free of racial strife and inequality is poignantly captured in his “I have a dream” speech.
- It was the character, courage and compassion displayed by these men and women in the midst of great need and great adversity that sets them apart as great leaders and servants of their people. In the words of Jesus: If you want to be great learn to be a servant.
I have a sense of hope for the impact that these young leaders will have as they move forward. I am encouraged by the fact that ordinary people can “step up” to accomplish extraordinary things. One final word: where is your place to “step up”?
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