by Deric Muhammad
Leadership is a lot like waking up in the morning; the earlier you get started, the more you are likely to get accomplished.
Did you know that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was only 26 years old when he led the Montgomery Bus Boycott in Alabama? He had been studying for his mission since he was 15 years old. Too often we look at accomplished leaders in our society and are amazed by their abilities, but we have no idea how early they got started.
Nelson Mandela was expelled from a South African college at the age of 22 for participating in a protest. Huey P. Newton was only 23 when he co-founded the legendary Black Panther Party. Tiger Woods appeared on television in a golf putting competition against talk show host Bob Hope when he was only two years old. Venus and Serena Williams started playing tennis so early that they turned pro at the age of 14. Entertainers like Beyonce’ Knowles and even Lil’ Wayne started working on their crafts as children. These individuals are not all considered “leaders” in the traditional sense, but they all lead in their respective fields and they all proclaim that they did not become great overnight. True greatness takes time and the longer it takes for you to get started the longer it will take for you to start shining.
I am merely trying to highlight a principle and encourage young people to stop associating being young with “playtime” and leaving leadership to the older generation. Most real revolutionary changes that have taken place around the globe have been spearheaded by young people. Che Guevara and Fidel Castro led the Cuban revolution while in their twenties.
One of the greatest educational crimes committed against young people in America is that leadership (and personal finance) is not taught in public schools. Leadership development must become a priority in our communities if we truly want to invest in the future of this country. Here are a few leadership tips that, as a young person, have helped me to be effective.
Vision- This is first element of leadership. You must know where you want to go, what you want to accomplish and who you want to become. The sooner you figure it out the faster you will get there. Too many young people enter college without knowing what discipline they want to master. Living without a vision can be compared to driving blindfolded. You’ll end up wherever the vehicle takes you. Life is your vehicle. Take off the blindfolds and get where you are going. A.S.A.P.
Purpose- Find your purpose in life. Nobody was put here on Earth without a purpose and true happiness comes from fulfillment of that purpose. If you are not afraid to pursue what you love and do well you will become successful and fulfilled. Set trends, don’t follow them- There is entirely too much “swagger jacking” among the youth of today.
Start Now!- In Japan, when a mother wants her child to be a mathematician she starts reading Math books aloud to her baby while it is still in her stomach. That makes all of us late starters. You are never too young to get started on the road to greatness.
The “And What?” Factor- You must be courageous. Too many human beings are absolutely paralyzed with fear of what others will think of them. You can never become a leader by listening to and following the crowd. Figure out what is right then do it. Find out the truth and then tell it. Be bold about your vision and take charge. Work hard until you succeed and then look back at your critics and say, “and what”!
Read or Do Not Lead- All great men and women are avid readers. Physical size and strength no longer represents the ultimate power. There are leaders who rule the world from wheelchairs, because they have developed mind over matter. In sports it is the huge guys who make the plays on the field and the court, but it is often the puny guys who write the checks. Which would you rather be?
EAVESDROP- Find someone who is successful at what you want to do and study them closely. Don’t be afraid to ask them to mentor you and go to work for them for free if you need too. Knowledge is priceless. Study them intensely, but always keep in mind the question “how can I do this better”.
(Deric Muhammad is a Houston-based community organizer. Follow him on Twitter @DericMuhammad)