The Longing For Leadership

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

When I was a kid, there was very little talk about leadership and what made leaders great. Due to the fact that I was born just eight years after the end of WWII, there certainly was no shortage of examples, both good and bad, of leaders that had profoundly changed history. Adolph Hitler had definitely led Germany to hell. Winston Churchill inspired fishermen to row out into the English Channel in dinghies to rescue soldiers while families waited at home to “put the kettle on for a proper spot of tea,” and they all took strangers into their homes. Mussolini strutted about and ended up before a firing squad. Eisenhower stayed up all night to pray before D-Day. It seemed that leadership wasn’t so much something that one studied, it was something that one became by example. If ever there was a time when people are longing for leadership, I think it’s now.

Recently, I heard an interview with a man who is the new CEO of a global health food corporation with whom I have been affiliated for the past twenty years. He grew up in Idaho, and is the son of migrant parents. He learned to work hard in the fields, and it instilled in him a solid work ethic. He had a disabled brother who although eventually succumbed to the disease that slowly squeezed the life out of him, showed everyone how to squeeze the life out of life and live well.

The discussion was a frank and a rare look into the kinds of things leaders of corporations have to face irrespective of their gender, race, or the product they are marketing. He spoke of the difficulty he has already faced regarding making really tough decisions. At times the emphasis needs to be on the individual, and at other times taking care of people well means taking care of business, and the impact ultimately rests on the shoulders of the leader. But you know what particularly spoke to me about this guy? He learned early on in his life to listen. Before anyone knew that he was going to be the new CEO (after the founder stepped away after more than a half century running the company), the “new guy,” who wasn’t new at all to direct sales, went on what he calls a “listening tour.”

The CEO went undercover and attended all kinds of events, boot camps, gatherings large and small, and took the pulse of the representatives — those who had worked in the company for years, and those who were brand new. What did he hear, and what fuels the longing for leadership? That at the end of the day, we all want to be chosen. We want to be led well, not jumping into the ditch of making it only about ourselves nor only about following the dreams of the leader, but to remember the underdog, even the one in a three-piece Versace suit or who is sporting Prada.

Everyone feels like an underdog at some point in their life, even when they are successful. No one but God knows the secret battles and the obstacles that are faced by all humans, but as Maya Angelou said so eloquently, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” She also said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” I think that if leaders great and small would do those two things, the longing, no, the starvation for leadership that exists in so many parts of our nation and culture could be reversed in short order. God knows we need it, and it starts with us, even if the only one on our team is in fact, us.