The end of the academic school year is celebrated with the graduation ceremonies and those inspiring commencement speeches by valedictorians and keynote speakers. It is a time when students, armed with knowledge gained over the course of pursuing their diplomas or degrees, consider the next steps in their journey. I recently had the pleasure of speaking to students at the Universities at Shady Grove about their future. I challenged them to use their talents and education to be leaders and catalysts for change.
Over the years, I have developed my five Ls of Leadership which guide my journey through life;
1. LIVE your passion and the opportunities will come.
2. LEAD change.
3. LEAVE an impact in whatever you choose to do.
4. LEAN into the unknown. Take risks and be pioneers.
5. LEARN from your failures and successes.
So how can you empower yourselves to be leaders?
First, you have to be a pioneer and be willing to step into the unknown, to take risks. For me, the greatest rewards and growth have come from stepping into the unknown.
Second, in order to empower yourselves as leaders, you have to dream big; believe that your dreams can become a reality and let no one tell you otherwise, because it can be done. You have to have a vision of your own potential. In some ways you have to be like an architect with a blueprint whose clear image of the future pulls the architect forward.
Third, regardless of who you are and what you do, as a leader, you cannot succeed alone. We have all come on the shoulders of others be they parents, or colleagues or other pioneers.
Fourth, at all times as leaders, you must be consistent role models. One of my all-time favorite quotes is Mahatma Gandhi’s “You have to be that change you want to see.” You cannot take others where you have not been; you cannot preach what you are unable to practice. Part of that process is being clear about your guiding principles and standing up for your beliefs.
Fifth, experimentation, innovation and change all involve risk and failure, but as leaders you must proceed anyway and learn from your failures and successes. We have all had failures; the fifth tenet is that the leader is one who uses these hard knocks to become better, to sharpen the focus on what is important and uses these new found skills to take on even greater risks and learn as they travel this leadership path.
I firmly believe that leadership is latent in every one of us. It is what you do to tap into it that distinguishes good leaders. Leadership isn’t just reserved for a few charismatic men and women. It’s a process ordinary people use when they’re bringing forth the best from themselves and others. Liberate the leader in everyone, and extraordinary things happen. Leadership is important not just in your career but in all your interactions. The only limits we place on empowerment are the limits we place on ourselves. Leadership is a learnable set of practices that involve being a pioneer and taking risks, having a vision, enlisting others in your vision and enabling others to act, being a consistent role model and learning from failures.
Dr. Rohini Anand is the senior vice president and global chief diversity officer at Sodexo.