We face an unprecedented crisis of leadership in America today. Regardless of your political leanings, it’s hard to deny that across all levels of government, our leaders are failing us. To be sure, there are exceptions, particularly at the state and local level. But what this country needs right now is not being met by its current leaders. I predict we will look back at this period as one of the bleakest leadership chapters in the grand story of this country. The failure of leadership, more so than the global pandemic or any other social problem, is the real issue of our times.
As I write these words, people are rioting in the streets of American cities in response to the almost universal revulsion to the killing of George Floyd. People from all walks of life are concerned, frustrated, angry. They are seeking answers to big questions. I am one of these people. When I find myself in this state, I often turn to the wisdom of those who came before us. In this case, I have found inspiration in the words of Mother Teresa. “If each of us would only sweep our own doorstep,” she reminded us, “the whole world would be clean.”
Think about that for a moment. Many of us are busy expending energy expressing our outrage on social media. Some are retreating and tuning out. But how many of us are attending to our own doorsteps? As I reflected on the words of Mother Teresa, I discovered my answer to the question I often ask myself in moments of frustration: “What can I do right now to live and lead in a way that models the world I want to live in?” In other words, within the circle of life that I can control, there are huge opportunities to be the example of leadership that I want to see more broadly. So, I wake up each day, and I strive to be an example to my family of what it looks like to live a life of love, kindness, compassion, courage, and integrity. I try my best to do the same with my colleagues and my clients. I hold myself to an insane standard of excellence, because I cannot expect the world to be different if I am not leading by example. And when I fall short – and I do – I take responsibility for my failings. And I learn and I grow.
If you’re among the many that are rightfully concerned, angry, frustrated, and/or confused, here’s my humble advice. Open your front door and literally sweep your own doorstep. I’m serious. Let that be the symbolic gesture each day that reminds you of your responsibility and your agency in this world. Make your bed. Perform your morning ritual. Honor your body by working out, sleeping sufficiently, and nourishing it. Smile, a lot. Be kind and compassionate to your loved ones, your colleagues, and even strangers. Look at every interaction you have with people throughout the day as a blessing, as an opportunity to serve. The world will continue to swirl around you. It always will. But you will go to sleep with a profound sense of knowing that you are a leader. That you have done your part to make this world a better place.