Published on August 17, 2018, at 7:26 a.m.
by Halle Russo.
World leader. Two words that command tremendous authority.
When we think of world leaders, we often picture presidents, prime ministers and other heads of government. However, those individuals are no longer the people shaping society.
Fortune’s list of “The World’s 50 Greatest Leaders of 2018” reveals that business executives, athletes, teachers and even students have earned a place on the global stage. Perhaps this is due to the digital era where an increasing number of people can use technology to advance their causes. Or, this could be a result of the fact that these individuals address controversial issues with deep, emotional ties in ways that government officials simply cannot.
Whatever the cause, one thing is certain. These leaders are making the world a better place right before our eyes. Not only are they educating us on new perspectives and exemplifying what it means to take risks and spark innovation, but they are also teaching us how to stand out in our own communities.
These are the four biggest lessons from this year’s greatest leaders:
1. You’re never too young to make an impact.
Individuals on the list vary widely in age. There are some people who are at the very beginning of their careers. There are others who have already established themselves in their respective industries, such as Tim Cook. However, the number one spot on the list went to a group of 11- to 21-year-olds known as “The Students” at Majory Stoneman Douglas and other schools. It is empowering to see these teenagers, some who aren’t even of the voting age in the United States, start a conversation of international magnitude.
This proves that everyone can be a leader in their own way. Even if you are not making a global impact, you can lead by example and influence others on a smaller scale. Your age and title do not define you. Your only limitation lies in how much time and energy you are willing to dedicate to advancing your vision. According to a Forbes article, the true mark of leadership is taking responsibility and having the mindset that says, “I am the person who must make this happen.”
2. There’s immense power in sticking to your moral compass.
Whether you see it in the #MeToo movement or Kenneth Frazier’s resignation from President Trump’s manufacturing council, people rally behind leaders who stand up for their morals even when it means risking their status or title. Delta Air Lines’ CEO, Ed Bastian, summarized this lesson well after the company made a controversial decision. Bastian said, “Our decision was not made for economic gain, and our values are not for sale.”
While it may be difficult to take a firm stance on some issues, it is a necessary part of leadership. Doing the right thing may present a multitude of challenges, but this is how you truly show your strength and instill trust in you as a leader. Ultimately, sticking to your moral compass will have a much longer, more admirable impact than conforming to society’s whims.
3. You should find and capitalize on the good in every situation.
New Zealand is marked by immigration and housing crises, but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is looking at “social, cultural and environmental well-being metrics” to measure progress. Malaria is becoming more prevalent in some countries, yet Bill and Melinda Gates are combatting it through their contributions to the Innovative Vector Control Consortium. New Orleans has high crime rates, but Mayor Mitch Landrieu started a mentorship program with the goal of reducing gang-related homicides called “NOLA for Life.”
The key takeaway from these examples is that every situation has a solution, though not always an obvious one. While it is sometimes so easy to dwell on negativity, people cling to those who possess a positive outlook and inspire hope. The ability to envision a solution and to turn a negative situation around is found in all leaders. Embracing the smallest possibility of change is far better than having no solution at all.
4. You determine your own potential.
Everyone has potential. This potential is only capped by your belief in its limits. Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors, presents the perfect example. In an industry that is dominated by men (link 9), Barra stands out and, in terms of revenue, runs the biggest company in the world. Gwynne Shotwell works in another male-dominated industry as the president and chief operating officer of SpaceX. Shotwell proves that the world is literally limitless through SpaceX’s work and mission to “lower the cost of space travel and enable the colonization of other planets.”
As Barra, Shotwell and the rest of 2018’s greatest leaders illustrate, only you can prompt your wildest dreams to come to fruition. By believing in yourself and your goals, you are setting yourself up for success. Once you set yourself up for success, all that it takes to make an impact as a leader is the confidence to ask for what you want, to stick to your moral compass and to share your vision with others.