unlikely leaders

More unlikely leaders walk the Earth than likely. This fact is counterintuitive and goes against popular opinion. But since the “world is flat”, it is now truer than ever. Unlikely leaders are ordinary people who sometimes achieve extraordinary things. They are leaders who achieve despite their weaknesses.

Sometimes the leader is the one you would pick out of a crowd. But just as often the leader is the person you would least expect. It is these unlikely leaders that surprise us. They stand up among us time and time again, proving that anyone, anytime, anywhere can be a leader.

Even many leader recruitment searches miss potential leaders. This happens because we look for people who we think are leaders when we should be looking for people who can become leaders. We focus too much on the visible attributes and not enough on the invisible.

We should have learned by now that being a leader is not the preserve of the rich and powerful, or the famous or beautiful. Being a leader is not reserved for the super talented or the VIPs. It is not just for men, adults, a certain nationality, race or ethnic group.

Leadership is not a mysterious talent that some people are “lucky” to acquire. Simply, but surprisingly, leadership is a divine gift to all of us. Actually, when you consider it, it’s pretty obvious that some of the most revered and remembered leaders were unlikely leaders in their day.

Abraham Lincoln’s story is known around the world: humble beginnings, a perennial loser in elections, but ultimately becoming arguably our greatest president in war or peace. Dave Thomas began his life as a foster child, overcame a series of obstacles and went on to build the globally successful Wendy’s hamburger chain.

George Foreman was a bad boy on the streets of Houston who proved that work ethic, faith, and sheer desire can propel you forward. He became an Olympic gold medalist, two-time heavyweight champion of the world, a wealthy merchandise salesman, a beloved personality, and pastor of a small church in his community.

So it can be done. We need unlikely leaders.

The Marines say: “Wherever there are two Marines, one of them will be the leader.” Great date. Sure, Marines have a lot of value, but you don’t have to be a Marine to know that this maxim could apply to any group of two or more human beings.

Leaders set the stage and create goals for the rest of us.

“Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask yourself what you can do for your country.”

“I have a dream…”

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

It is not disrespectful to non-leaders, the people called followers, to say “Things go up and down with leadership.” Yes, we know that leaders cannot accomplish a task alone. If they do, they are not really leaders but loners. But even the Lone Ranger didn’t do it alone. Fool or others are always involved. But leaders must participate. This is not to say that “non-leaders” don’t matter. It just means that leadership always matters.

Unlikely leaders are just “normal people.” Not just superstars, spiritual giants or braniacs. Not just Condoleezza Rice or Franklin Graham or Elizabeth Dole or Steven Jobs. Unlikely leaders emerge because they care about something beyond themselves. They stand out because they take a step forward.

You can become an unlikely leader. It is not an exact science. You don’t need a title. You need purpose and passion. Put another way, you need focus and commitment to get things done. You can become an unlikely leader in any field of activity by following or implementing some principles. The choice is yours.

Improbable Leadership Principles:

Character and competence count. While the countenance, your appearance, and the connections, your network, are blessings, perhaps gifts to be used, they become empty without a clear conscience. Tiger Woods and John Edwards are distinctively talented people, but their leadership legacies will never be the same.

Use the talent you have. Don’t worry about the talents you presumably lack. Not everyone can throw a football 65 yards in the air or give an inspirational impromptu speech. Work with what God gave you.

represent something The revered and remembered leaders are more than themselves. Give hope to others. Work for good. Lead when others are not yet following you. Risk and ridicule are sometimes part of the leadership experience, but so is the reward. Change things. Dreamers dream. Leaders lead.

Rosa Parks is called by many the “Mother of the Modern Civil Rights Movement.” She earned this nickname through a simple yet profound act of courage and determination. She was an unlikely leader, but a leader nonetheless.

Unlikely leaders are special for the same reason that they don’t mind being special. You can become an unlikely leader. Look within to find your passion. Look outside to see how you can make the world a better place. Then do it.

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