The power of the caring adult
Q: Rand Paul, son of former presidential candidate Ron Paul, has rocketed to national prominence with his win in Kentucky's Senate primary this week. Would his victory have been possible without his father's popularity and name recognition? Can any aspect of leadership be inherited?
Leadership is not genetically transmitted, but there are societal and cultural determinants that influence its development.
One of my teachers taught that so much of who you are and what you become is determined by three things:
1. When you were born
2. Where you were born
3. To whom you were born
When you were born addresses the historical trajectory into which we enter; the events through which our individual narrative emerges. If you grew up in a time when social laws did not allow you to obtain the best public education, your capacity to develop and exercise your intellectual abilities would be seriously limited. If your parents were middle- or upper-class economically and could easily provide the basic necessities and luxuries, your opportunities may be exponentially greater than someone whose parents' income was below poverty level.
Fortunately, there are factors beyond these that affect leadership. First, there is community. The quality of community life around you affect your self-perception and the possibilities of your life.
Second, adults, other than parents, play an important role in giving you messages about your worth and your future. In our work with leaders, we frequently hear of the significance that caring adults have had in their lives. These are people who saw "the unrealized potential" in them and nurtured their courage and will to overcome adversity.
These adults conveyed high expectations for achievement and because of their genuine belief in their potential, those in whom they had invested often met and exceeded the expectations. One phrase I use to describe this is "being held in trust."
The experience of being held in trust gave these leaders an inner confidence and a desire to have their lives of meaning. Their sense of gratitude to those who held them in trust was expressed and manifested in their service to others--in their determination to help someone else.
Third, the desire to serve is integral to leadership. Regardless of the circumstances of birth, a leader's ability to perceive the needs of others and to know that they could make such a difference by responding to those needs, is an example of the generosity they experienced now being given to others.
Money, name recognition, physical attractiveness, and innate intelligence are all factors that can give someone an opportunity to lead. Whether they can lead, will be determined more by their ability to see and hold a broad view of reality, their capacity to appreciate and value the diversity of human beings and experiences, and their understanding of, and commitment to, the common good. These are not in anyone's DNA; they are learned and inherited through experience and relationships.
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