Sunday, October 17, 2010

Ideas and Actions

“Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.” Joel Barker

In the latest edition of the UTSA Student Affairs staff newsletter, I wrote about a woman who made a very large gift to the university to fund scholarships. Years earlier, she had heard students discussing the difficulties of paying for college. What makes her different from so many of us is that instead of ignoring what she heard, instead of feeling sorry for the students, instead of wishing the world was otherwise, she did something to make a difference. She started a scholarship fund with a small donation and she kept adding to it throughout her life, finally ending with a multi-million dollar bequest. She saw a need and took action.

She saw a need and took action. I don’t think this characteristic by itself defines a leader, but I’m beginning to wonder if it is possible for leadership to exist without it. Last week I wondered if the term ‘creative leader’ was redundant, since leaders have to be able to see new possibilities, new ways of doing, new ways of being and that seems to be the very definition of creativity. Here is the definition from “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination”. I still think creative leader is redundant, but it’s not enough. Having a new idea is fantastic, seeing a new way to meet a need is wonderful, but without the next step of ‘taking action’, there’s not much leadership in evidence. While lead is not always a verb, in this context, lead is an action word. A person has to be moving us forward in one sense or another for us to consider it leadership. It may be from one state of being to another, but I think change is required.

And, as I’ve said before, there have to be other people involved. If I walk out of the room saying ‘Follow me’ and everyone stays in their chairs, there is not a whole lot of leading going on!

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending TEDx San Antonio* and I listened to more than a dozen people who exemplified leadership. Their initiatives ranged from addressing hunger to ending the death penalty, from fostering creativity in children to helping people who are paralyzed walk – they covered a very wide range of issues and ideas. All of them have their own style, their own focus, their own way of thinking about issues, but all of them have these characteristics:

^They pay attention to the world around them.
^They see a need and believe they can make a difference.
^They find others who know about and care about this need they have identified.
^They are willing and eager to learn.
^They are able to step out on their own if need be, but able and willing to connect with others.
^They envision a world that is different from and better than the one that currently exists.
^They take action.

If the quote above is right, these folks are going to change the world by changing their part of it – sounds like leadership to me.

Best wishes,