While much of society encourages a definition of success that follows historic paradigms and sheltered pathways, heroic leadership requires the ability to think independently and act according to risk and generosity in order to forge a new trail. Certainly there is tremendous value in the education and followership that lead to the competency of operational leaders. But too often the capability of leadership to innovate and promote meaningful change stops there. Beatnik author, Jack Kerouac said, “Put down the pen someone else gave you. No one ever drafted a life worth living on borrowed ink.” William Deresiewicz agrees, calling today’s leaders, “excellent sheep (2010).” Explaining that, though capable of achieving any goal or passing any test, they lack the ability to think for themselves or formulate new direction.
Edmund Morris (2001), in his book The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, explained of Roosevelt, in regard to his charge up kettle hill that, “he was aware of very little of what was going on outside the orbit of his ears and sweat-fogged spectacles. It was as if some primeval force drove him.” Roosevelt himself wrote, “All men who feel any power of joy in battle know what it is like when the wolf raises in the heart.” Theodore Roosevelt, one of America’s greatest heroic leaders, had dedicated a lifetime to feeding that wolf in his heart. In constant pursuit of knowledge and experience, yet able to spend meaningful time contemplating his ideals, Roosevelt developed a value system from which he did not stray. His ability to not only lead others, but also to sacrifice and care for them along the way, demonstrated the strength of character and mind that made him a hero to his men and to the American people. Despite his epic stature and stalwart reputation, what Roosevelt possessed most, what his heroic foundation what built upon, is something available to even the most common person – courage and kindness.
We all may cultivate characteristics of courage and kindness, those heroic features that make someone capable of risk and prone to generosity. They are there, hidden in experience, waiting only for our minds to free them. Once free, leadership becomes transformative, potential endless. Life, no longer a quest for victory, redefines the meaning of success to one of wisdom, compassion and self-awareness. It’s time to put down the borrowed pen, confront ourselves and become the leaders we are destined to be. It’s time to become heroes.
The preceding was an excerpt from my paper, On Heroism and Leadership. Written in conjunction with the John Hopkins University Masters Program in Organizational Leadership. For more information or to schedule a talk, contact me via the Contact link….