In 1910, Theodore Roosevelt, my favorite American president, gave a speech called “Citizenship in a Republic” at the Sorbonne in Paris. Here is an excerpt from my favorite part, “. . . if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Today, what passes for leadership is a watered-down version of what I grew up respecting. Today, everyone wants to be seen . . . to get people’s attention. We want validation, our 15 minutes of fame. But few are willing to put in work that is impactful enough to be worthy of the attention they seek.
If you want people to pay attention to you, add value to their lives. Let your actions speak, not your words. Do things that matter. Do what you love. Show up prepared every day. Do what you say you’re going to do. Make a difference. Leaders never know who is watching or the impact they are having in someone’s life. They know the impact of their actions is what makes them worthy of attention.
The first step to becoming a leader is not learning a new set of skills. It’s discovering your purpose, the thing that drives your passion. Call it your “Why” if you will, but whatever term you use, it’s the inspiration that sets your soul on fire. It’s what drives us to be more intentional in how we think, act, and live our lives.
Leaders never quit. All great leaders refuse to do so. I’m very excited about the journey ahead. We have a big North Star waiting to guide us to the future and a roadmap to keep us focused along the way. Here’s the thing . . . we must fight for real change, not just check a box. The people in our communities, our families and friends, deserve nothing less.
You have probably read the parable of the tugboat and the lighthouse. The tugboat can save ships. The lighthouse can save ships. The ways they choose to do this are drastically different from one another.
The tugboat goes out to push and pull an individual boat, expending an enormous amount of energy and effort. It often runs to the ragged edge to get itself and a single ship to shore or safety. The lighthouse simply stands fixed, in calm seas and rough, and shines its bright light. Every boat sees the light and chooses whether to heed the warning or ignore it.
Economic development and community revitalization are not done with spreadsheets, because spreadsheets are lazy. They don’t tell you about people or community pride. Unfortunately, this is how too many decisions are made today.
Someone prepares a spreadsheet and, like the tugboat, pushes and pulls others to implement a plan. Sometimes you must trust your heart and follow where it leads. You must get dirt under your fingernails, maybe even a splinter or two. No spreadsheet or app can tell you what you can see, feel and smell. Sometimes, you must just step up, shine your light and do what needs to be done. That’s what the lighthouse does.
Building anything takes grit, patience and discipline. It doesn’t matter what we build: a building, a community or our own positive mindset. Being positive in the Mon Valley isn’t always easy, especially when people seem to be teeing up negativity everywhere. Remember: negativity is the coward’s retreat.
Time and experience are unrelenting teachers, bringing lessons in maturity and wisdom as we learn and grow into who we were born to be. We all learn our lessons differently, some easy and some hard. How many of us have lamented, “If I only knew then what I know now?”
Certainly, I have failed at various times. But progress has always come out of those failures.
Growing old is a wondrous blessing, and as we grow older and wiser, it becomes our responsibility to share our gifts with those following close behind.
Jamie Protin is founder and principal of The Protin Group in Belle Vernon.
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