Where Have All the True Leaders Gone?

People perish not for a lack of discipline, but for a lack of vision.

The speaker I was listening to was talking about the youth of today. And that parent’s frustrations were misplaced. It wasn’t about creating more structure, rules, or methods of enforcement, but rather it was about showing them a future.

For if we could find a way to connect their today with a future full of significance and purpose, then they would be more motivated to make better right-now choices.

I was a young manager at the time, and hearing that advice was revolutionary for the way I approached leading my employees. I worked to find ways to tie the monotonous into a greater purpose, full of future development for each of them.

Well at least he’s got potential.

I heard this from the mother of a young woman I was interested in dating. It raised a flag inside for me, ‘well it’s great that I have potential, but does that mean that others don’t?’

This is a fundamental choice that all of us as leaders and managers need to make. Do all the people around us have potential, or are there some who just simply do not?

And if we can make the choice that yes, all of us do have potential, then how do we invest our time to help them figure out what that potential looks like?

How much time is worth investing before the investment becomes too costly?

Where have all the true leaders gone?

This was the name of a blog post I wrote several years ago, as I was frustrated by the lack of leaders who were willing to make the choice to invest into the potential of those around them.

I related this not just to managers, but also to other positions of influence such as teachers, coaches, and pastors.

Think about the impact a really great teacher has on the future of a child. Perhaps it’s a child struggling to believe that they are smart enough to make it in this tough world. And it is this one teacher who notices, and then cares enough to invest the time into helping this child create a future vision that sounds something like, “you are smart enough, and you will succeed.”

70% of U.S. workers are not engaged with their jobs

This is from a recent Gallup poll. But the bigger question for me is what percentage of U.S. workers are not engaged with their own potential?

What percentage of people are engaged with a vision for their future?

What percentage of people have had the benefit of a true leader in their lives who spent time investing into their potential?

We all go through valleys. We all feel like there are times we aren’t going to make it. It’s our belief in a bright future that keeps us going. It’s the reassuring voice of a leader in our lives that reminds us that the fight is worth it.

Finding our potential can feel like a lonely journey, on a narrow path, through a vast, never-ending wilderness

This is where the sense of failure and depression sets in for many of us. When we lose sight of the horizon, we lose hope, and then all we can feel is despair.

We may even start to believe that we are good at nothing, worth very little, and that we are one of those people who don’t have potential.

It is in these moments of despair that we need the true leaders to come alongside and remind us that the path is just a bit farther, the future is right over the next hill, and that a few more steps will see us through.

Start with the person next to you

Start today, with the person closest to you. Begin by choosing to invest the time it takes to see their potential. Then take the risk and tell them. And a few weeks down the road when they forget, remind them. And as their present begins to line up with their future potential, celebrate with them.

Then begin to spread this approach throughout your network: family, co-workers, employees, students, friends, all of them will benefit from the investment you are choosing to make into their lives.

Derek Gillette
About the author: 

Derek Gillette is a marketer with Cisco, and formerly led marketing and strategy at States of Matter, a full-service design agency for consumer and tech brands based in Seattle, WA.  He has been in Founder and management roles for the Found Series  and PushPay.  Follow him on Twitter.