I often wonder what makes people into presidents.
No, I’m not talking about Super PACs, corruption, or coup d’etats. I mean the actual process of how someone goes from one day being, let’s say, a kid living in Hawaii, to a Harvard Law student, to a community organizer, to Illinois senator, to the Big Cheese Himself.
Like, at what point does your head pop off your pillow and you think, “I could be President.”
And then a later day, or maybe hour or minute, when you think “Damn, I should be President.”
It fascinates me.
The role of President, at least in the U.S., is meant to be the role of Ultimate Public Servant. Yep, your job is to serve the people of the country.
As we have seen over time, this notion works out in varying forms, to different degrees of success. (Blog post for another day.)
But this idea of servant leader? I like it. Turns out, I wasn’t the first one to think so. It’s a thing.
And you can do it. Starting today.
What is a Servant Leader?
Whether you have aspirations of attaining the Presidency, running a nonprofit or social enterprise, becoming the mayor, a manager, a mom, or anyone else whose job is to lead others, starting with service just makes sense.
Father of servant leadership, Robert K. Greenleaf, thinks so too:
“The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead… A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong.”
I’m with you, Bob. I like it. It’s kind of, frustratingly obvious, but I’m glad you said it.
A lot of times people apply servant leadership concept to businesses, but screw it –– I don’t think they should get to have all the fun.
In fact, I don’t think that servant leadership should be confined to formalized leaders at all. Hey-o.
With paths to servant leadership democratized to all those individuals seeking to make differences in their communities, we’d have genuine public servants all over the place. They would be running our local schools, nonprofits, governments, businesses, you name it.
What better person to start on this than you?
Did you realize you had signed up for a crash course that could eventually lead you to where Barry O himself ended up?
Well, you’re already here, so buckle up.
Step 1: Give a Shit About Something –– One Thing
I know, I know; this probably doesn’t seem like breaking news.
Chances are, if you’re reading this, you are already the kind of person who gives a shit about things. You read the news, you recycle, you sign petitions.
Essentially, you care. And probably a lot, about a lot.
Here’s the problem though –– the people who try to do everything and save everyone, (the Superpeople of the world), don’t end up being as impactful as they could be… mostly because they don’t have superhuman powers. And also because it’s impossible to do everything all the time always.
It’s true, though –– such people spend so much time running around doing different things, switching mindsets and recalibrating, that they may never see real results from all of their efforts.
Or on the flip side, it may be that when you think about all the things troubling the world, you flip to ostrich.
Can’t hear or see the problems if you’re head is covered in sand! #beatingthesystem
This much is true. But it also doesn’t solve anything –– most people know that (even the ostriches).
There’s nothing wrong with caring about lots of things. But making deep impact usually requires deep focus, and directing most –– if not all –– of your energy toward one thing at a time.
So, before you go about dedicating your energy and efforts to everything, consider which issues most concern you, anger you, or which you feel most energized about affecting.
Does climate change have you up at night?
Do you stew over the gender pay gap?
Modern-day racism haunt your dreams?
Broken education system frustrate you?
Food deserts have you ruminating?
Immigration policies anger you?
Disappointed in the new faux-feminist Wonder Woman movie?
Like I said, plenty of things to want to change in the world.
A lot of times, it comes down to issues that have in some way affected you personally or in which you have a vested interest.
Whatever issue that may be, commit to it. It doesn’t mean you suddenly don’t care about the other stuff.
Just that in order to start you need to get focused. (Don’t worry, you’ll come back to the other stuff later.)
Step 2: Get Schooled –– It’s Cool to Be the Nerd
Forget high school stereotypes. Being a nerd is cool now –– my mom even said.
No matter what issue or cause you’d like to work on, chances are it’s deeper and more complex than you imagined. Maybe you’re already an expert on your cause of choice, or maybe it’s the first you’re hearing about it.
Either way, you gotta pause for a sec, and learn.
It doesn’t even have to be boring –– you are the Miss Frizzle, vibrant bus driver of your learning destiny. Remember that.
Make the process fun from the get-go.
With your cause in mind, set out to learn as much as you possibly can about it. Need ideas to start?
In no particular order:
Oh also –– this isn’t a college degree. Give yourself like a week to learn as much as you can quickly, then schedule in times for learning along the rest of the way. #ForeverStudent
No one says you need to know everything about everything from the get go. But committing to learning before helping gets you to a baseline of understanding, so that you aren’t like, busting up into a world like the Kool-Aid man, full of good intentions, but poor judgment and artificial flavoring.
Learning? Big time saver.
Step 3: Find Your People –– They’re Out There
Now you’ve got your cause, and you’ve got your info.
What could be missing?
Survey says… it’s people!
Remember that whole thing we talked about before with your not having superhuman powers? Yeah, no matter how passionate you are or how armed with info, you’re gonna need other people to help you out.
You just have to figure out:
With the majestic and sometimes concerning power of the internet, this task has become much more possible than before.
Start simply with a Google search to identify the big names in the cause. Surf through a few and bookmark those that seem the most in line with what you want to work on.
There is more than one way to skin a cat, or in this case reduce global warming / promote equality / improve education, etc.
If Google isn’t turning up much, or conversely, if the amount of results is overwhelming, look elsewhere.
Sites like Idealist are great for finding organizations with people who, well, already give a shit about what you do. By perusing their sites and activities, you can get a sense of what they are already working on, and how you could get involved.
Yep, this applies no matter where the organization is located.
Most large organizations have ways for people to get involved with what they’re working on around the globe –– again, power of the internet.
Subscribe to newsletters, check the calendar of events for webinars, follow them on social media, and join interactive forums and groups.
Then, filter by location –– do any of those large organizations have branches on a local level? Big name ones often have locations all around –– it’s worth a look.
Check into the closest one you could get to. If there’s nowhere nearby, fill out the contact form on the organization’s website or send them a message over Facebook, tell them who you are and where you live, and ask them how you could get involved with what they’re doing.
Chances are, they’ll have some ideas for you to at least get started.
Depending on both the organization and your own level of availability/commitment, that might mean anything from a one-off volunteer opportunity to a sustained service commitment to a part or full-time job.
Start small, and get your feet wet.
If not, move on to…
Step 4: Make Your Own Project –– No Cop-outs
When I was a kid, I learned pretty quickly never to complain that I was bored in front of my dad.
At best, he would reply “Bored people are boring.”
At worst, he would assign me several chores to do.
Same goes here. Don’t use the fact that all the action for your cause seems to only be happening in New York, DC, or London.
It’s probably not true.
Movements spread in all sorts of ways, but one of the key ones is when people from all over the place spring up and make shit happen wherever they are, kind of like an annoying weed.
That’s right –– be a weed. This is where things get interesting.
No help can also mean, no rules, no restrictions, and no one telling you no, or where to go, or say you’re only dreaming…
Sorry, drifted off into Aladdin for a second.
Starting a project independently means that you have the autonomy to plan and go about your strategy for making change your way.
The options are as big as you can imagine them.
Will you end up stepping on some toes? Likely.
Will you break some rules here and there? Probably.
Will you learn by doing? Definitely.
You can find a lot of resources for people like yourself doing cool shit in their communities by checking out Community Toolkits, How-to Project Guides, or sites like Shareable.net.
Get out in your community and make your commitment to the cause known without a map or guidebook, and cool things can happen.
Step 5: Grow the Snowball
Ever rolled a snowball down a hill? At the top you’ve got a feeble little globe you formed with your mittens, and by the end you have a massive pile of frozen water so hefty it could bowl someone over.
If you live in a place where there is no winter, I’m sorry you can’t connect to this snowy metaphor.
Point being, that once you start, momentum builds naturally. As you get involved with your cause, one opportunity will lead to another, to a connection, to a friend, to an organization, to a meeting, and so on.
Like we talked about in point 1, having your focus and mission clear from the outset means that all of the steps you take will lead toward your goal of improving a cause, and of serving others. For some, this is a difficult transition to imagine, since their goals are not to acquire high levels of prestige or notoriety, but to make an impact.
This comes down to choosing the right type of leadership.
Sure, you can sign on with an established system of influence, such as vying for a seat on a nonprofit board or running for office. These are totally badass ways to do so, btw.
Or, you could…
Before you realize it, you will have gone from primarily boots on the ground-type activities to higher-level organizing to… running the show?
This might be the biggest surprise of all, when (servant) leadership doesn’t look at all the way you thought it might.
Spoiler: You’re Already on the Road to Public Service
When Bob (can I call you Bob?) Greenleaf wrote about servant leadership, he had a vision in mind of a leader who served first, and everything else came after.
Such leaders succeed, not necessarily because of wheeling and dealing tactics, high-level connections or Pennsylvania Ave addresses.
No, they become leaders not to have the fame or recognition, but because they understand that serving first just makes sense, and then they become leaders so they can serve others more.
If you’re the kind of person who cares about the world –– and I think we’ve determined that you are –– the path to becoming a leader starts by simply giving a shit about something, and then doing something about it.
No elaborate plans, high-level connections, or millions of dollars required.
It’s a simple strategy, which begs the question –– why don’t more people do it?
And for that matter … why don’t you?
If you liked this post, you might also like: 4 Sites to Bookmark Now if You Love Taking Action
Let's change the world.
Who wrote this?
Gina Edwards, Impact Explorer founder and lover of all pun jokes, making a positive change in the world, Stephen Colbert, Jif Peanut Butter, and staying inside on rainy days. Order may vary.