Growing up on a dairy farm surrounded by cows and cousins, I didn’t have the typical young entrepreneur backstory of the lawn cutting business, newspaper route, etc. But what I did have were opportunities to serve in leadership positions at every level from my 4th grade class all the way through middle/high school, college and beyond. 

In fact, my mom often proudly tells a story of one of my teachers in elementary school saying that “I hope Derek stays on the right path, because if he doesn’t, he will take half the school down with him. He’s such a natural leader.”

Leadership is something that has been a fascination of mine for most of my life. How one person can inspire and influence others to accomplish things much greater together than each could individually do on their own. Throughout college, any time a professor let us choose a topic to research, I always chose a great leader of the past; poured over their speeches, how they conveyed vision, how they lifted people up.

One of those leaders who I spent a considerable amount of time and energy studying was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I remember sitting in my dorm room with my headphones on listening to every single one of his speeches I could find, feeling so inspired that even the goosebumps on my arms were rising up to try and take on the world. 

I remember sitting there and the whole world disappearing, like it was just me and Martin. His words: poetry. His delivery: powerful. His message: moving. I remember sitting there thinking, What an amazing leader. He was able to change the world with his words and his vision for a better tomorrow.

Dr. King is most well known for his “I Have a Dream” speech. However, if you were to look at his prepared notes on that fateful day, you wouldn’t find “I Have a Dream” as the title…and you wouldn’t even find it written anywhere on any of the pages. You see, the most famous part of his most famous speech was completely ad libbed. The most transcendent words of his life (and the lives of many others), completely off script. He spoke not from his notes, but from his heart…all because one woman sitting in a chair behind him, during the middle of the speech, said six short words: “Tell them about the dream, Martin.”

Tell them about the dream.

Isn’t that what leadership is really about? Reminding people about their dreams: making them believe they have the abilities to be capable enough, to be strong enough, to be enough—to bravely step out into the world and wholeheartedly live their lives.

Tell them about the dream.

Even Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the most powerful leaders history has ever seen, needed someone to remind him, to inspire him, to elevate him to that level of greatness.

Good leaders make you believe they are great and capable of anything.

You walk away amazed, awestruck, and impressed…but often there are also quiet, poisonous whispers floating in our heads: “They are such a natural. They are so lucky. I could never do something like that. What am I doing with my life?” You walk away with this jumbled mess of inspiration and desperation and the newfound motivation wears off pretty quickly, like the spike and ultimate crash of a sugar high. 

Good leaders make you believe they are great and capable of anything.

Great leaders make you believe you are great and capable of anything.

You walk away inspired, or as we say, empowergized, with a new perspective, with renewed purpose. You leave the interaction a better person, and you actually continue to become even better over time for having met them. Not drunk on their greatness—invigorated by yours.

I have always worked hard striving to be a good leader…but ever since I realized the difference between good ones and great ones, I’ve committed myself to strive for greatness. And what I’ve discovered is that being a great leader (I’ve had my moments) is a lot harder than being a good one. It requires you to step outside yourself, and rather than direct others with your own sage experience, you have to help guide them along the path where you may clearly see the way, while they may still be in dim light. 

Ever tried to guide a kid to find Easter eggs, or sound out a word? Ever trained an employee on a new piece of equipment or helped them learn a new skill? It takes more energy and more patience than you ever thought you had inside yourself…but when they find it, when they master it, they will amaze you with their discoveries. And they might even teach you a thing or two. So today, I’m humbling myself in the hopes of honing great leadership, for a few key reasons…

  • Because creating the space for others to write their own story lifts them up to greater heights than they may have thought possible. 
  • Because keeping my focus on things bigger than me, more important than my own ego, allows big ideas and positive change to flourish in amazing and unexpected ways.
  • Because dropping the armor and making myself more accessible, sharing my unvarnished truth, empowers others to more easily tap into their own greatness.

My hope in sharing this personal revelation is to hopefully, in some small way, help you discover your own path…your own unfair advantage…your own go!-Statement, so that your own greatness locked inside can be set free and be unleashed into the world.

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