A karaoke-loving shower singer, I usually have a rolodex of songs queued up in my head that can be triggered at any time with just a word. Lately, I’ve had that old Jackie DeShannon classic playing, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love, It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.”
But I can’t help thinking that what the world really needs right now, more than anything, more than love, or thoughts and prayers, or good deeds, is leadership. Authentic leadership.
We have a serious leadership crisis in our country, in politics, in public health, in corporate America, in faith and religion, and in all of our civic departments and local governments. We need leadership in addressing racial injustice, the homelessness crisis, and gun violence.
How can leadership be more important than love? Love is the only thing. Love wins. Love rules. I agree. I do believe that love can be world-changing and life-altering, and it’s necessary. But we need leadership, and we need it now.
Don’t we already have leaders? We elect new leaders. We hire CEOs and Presidents, appoint Mayors and Commissioners, and place others in positions of power. We have plenty of people with leadership titles, but leadership is so much more than a title.
Being a leader is more than the position you hold, the title you have, the degree you’ve earned, the money you make, the size of your company, or the size of the department or team that you manage. Being a leader is so much more than appearances, elections, political positions, fancy corner offices, or impressive titles and salaries.
Regardless of how you or I define leadership, when it comes to authentic leadership, I know it when I see it, and you probably do too. Instead of leadership quotes on a shareable meme, I am more interested in what leadership looks like on a daily basis in the trenches. Who is providing leadership when children are gunned down in the streets or at school, when citizens of our own country are murdered by those who are supposed to protect them or when others succumb to homelessness or an opioid addiction? I am more interested in leadership when the cost of gas has become unmanageable for most and mothers can’t feed their babies.
What does leadership do for us? Why is it so important, especially in times of crisis?
There are four primary things that leadership gives us. Leadership provides:
Leadership provides Vision. Proverbs 29:18, a scripture in the Bible, says something like, where there is no vision, the people perish. Vision allows us to see what is possible and where we need to go. Leaders can tell us what the roadmap looks like and what directions we need to follow to get there.
We need vision as a collective group, because as individuals, we are pulled in too many different directions. We all have varying priorities, needs, crises and egos. We all have different resources available to us, including privileges and abilities, whether they are physical or intellectual or otherwise. We are all caught up in the weeds of our own life. So much so that we need someone who can see above and outside all of that and give us a vision.
We need someone who can help us imagine a different future than the one we’ve been handed, and not just imagine it, but lead us on the path to get there.
Leadership provides Unity and brings people together around a common goal in spite of all the differences and conflict. Despite the evil and ugliness we witness on the news and in social media and sometimes even within our own friend group or family, I believe that the majority of people are good and that we all want the same things. One of my credos in life, which I included at the beginning of my book, Chasing the Merry-Go-Round, is this:
Home is a place all of us want to be. We all want to have our corner of the world, surrounded by people who know us, accept us, love us; a place where we are safe, warm, fed; a place where we have enough, where we are enough. This is all there is. I also believe that how we care for those who need help has an everlasting impact, and that if we can help people meet the basic needs of their spirit, soul and body, it allows them the ability to keep their own corner of the world, their home, safe and prosperous for them and their family. This is all there is.
At our core, as human beings, that is what we all want. And if we all want the same thing, I believe that we can rally around that, even though we may all have different ideas on how to get there. When I use the word unity, I'm not implying that we all have to follow the same path. There is not one path for everyone. Unity in the context of being a leader is someone who can rise up and remind us that even though we disagree on different things, we all want many of the same things. We all want a home. We all want to have enough. We all want our children safe. We all want our corner of the world. We need someone who can help us unite around that idea when we’re pulled in all these different directions.
Leadership provides Inspiration. The sensational and brutal nature of our 24/7 news, along with the behavior of some of our so-called leaders, can be overwhelming and discouraging. Why haven’t we made more progress in the areas of social justice? Why are people dying on the streets, unsheltered, hungry or addicted? Why can’t we solve these issues that plague us? Why are school-aged children murdered en masse for no reason?
We watch videos on YouTube that make us feel like we’re on that street or in that school, watching it happen. It’s devastating and we feel helpless. We feel like we’re standing by, silently watching these horrible things unfold before our eyes. We wonder why we can’t do anything to stop it. Perhaps we can’t worry about what is happening on a national scale because we lost our job and are consumed with trying to make our next mortgage payment so our family doesn’t end up sleeping in the car, or maybe we’re trying to figure out how to buy groceries or find health insurance because our four-year-old was just diagnosed with leukemia.
We need inspiration from our leaders to remind us of who we are, what we’re capable of, and that we can all impact and change the world.
Finally, authentic leadership gives us Strength. It gives us the resolve, the determination, the resilience to stay in it for the long haul, to go the distance, to get back up when we fall, to turn away from those things that hold us down and hold us back. Leadership sends a message to our enemies and those who wish us harm. A leader can be strong for us when we’re too weak to keep going.
What the world needs now is leadership. The kind of leadership that provides vision, unity, inspiration and strength.
Kelly's latest book, HERE TO LEAD: Mastering the Art of Leadership in Order to Execute Strategy, Advance Change, and Drive Results, is available now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Kelly has held executive leadership positions in multiple organizations and regularly consults with companies regarding leadership, operational excellence and change implementation. Also host of the podcasts, All There Is and Here to LEAD, as well as the award-winning author of Chasing the Merry-Go-Round: Holding on to Hope & Home When the World Moves Too Fast, Kelly is working on her next novel in Syracuse, New York and collaborating with her husband, Craig, on other art and writing projects.