“Leaders don't get tired.” That was the advice Condoleezza Rice offered at a recent event I attended with her. She was talking about all of the challenges America was facing with regulatory overreach, people struggling to pay their bills, and national security concerns.
Looking at the discord and lack of accountability within our political process, it’s easy to become discouraged, but Condi's words reminded me of the attitude we need to persevere.
Growing up, my Dad offered similar advice. He woke us up most mornings by calling up the stairs: "More people die in bed than anywhere else. Time to get up!" I still hear his words in my head from time to time, and I have to admit, I’ve occasionally repeated them to my kids.
What I didn't realize then was that my Dad was teaching me a lot about leadership. He was highly respected by people in our area because of his honesty, integrity and work ethic. Most days, he had worked several hours by the time us kids got moving in the morning, and no matter how late we came in from the field, he was always the last one in the yard. If we got grumpy, he would say, "Don't complain unless you’re willing to do something about it." That's leadership.
This week, I'm holding my first annual Lead Now! Youth Leadership Conference for high school students across the state. Proven leaders in business, sports, the military and politics will join me in teaching our young people about being leaders in their schools and communities.
What I’ve learned and will share with the students is that leaders rarely emerge during the good times. They most often arise through some kind of challenge.
I look back to when my dad passed. All he ever wanted was to farm as a family. But when he died, that dream seemed in danger. I think he'd be proud to see how our family pulled through and that we worked hard to make our dream come true.
Years later, I was elected to a Congress that was in dire need of new leadership. The last decade has made many to wonder whether America is ever going to get better. We’re slowly getting it turned around, but more Americans are on food stamps than at almost any point in our history. Millions of hardworking Americans are having a tough time finding a job that supports their family.
Now is the time for leadership and as frustrating as Washington can be, I try not to tire and wake up daily remembering my Dad’s words: Don’t complain; do something about it.
Of course, just “doing something” isn’t leadership. We need to do something that works.
This week, I’ll be talking with the students attending the Youth Leadership Conference about four leadership tools that help make sure we’re doing the right thing. They’re tools I try to use in Congress every day.
First, leaders encourage initiative, asking for ideas and empowering those around them. Second, leaders create opportunities to build ability, always seeking ways to improve. Third, leaders challenge the status quo, asking: Is this working? Could it be better?
Finally, leaders tap into hearts and minds. One of my favorite authors, John C. Maxwell, wrote, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
I never sought out to be a leader. When tough times arise, I remembered: “Don’t complain; do something about it.” And I try not to tire. It is my hope these are the lessons students participating in Lead Now! leave with too.