Friday, January 27

Leading Without Labels: Transformative Action

At the age of 14, Manuel Scott dropped out of school and his English grammar was so poor that he was classified as an English as a Second Language student (ESL). By the age of 16, he had already lived in 26 different places. And he began using drugs and alcohol.

Looking at his biography, you would never know it today. He is a transformative speaker working on his Ph.D. He often speaks about education, encouraging people to renew their commitment despite any issues or challenges they have. He encourages them because he was once encouraged to turn his life around too.

We have something in common, he and I. Based on our labels, neither of us should have "made it."

The trouble with labels.

Since watching Scott's Martin Luther King Jr. Day keynote speech on the recommendation of a friend, I've viewed and listened to several videos by Scott. And almost all of them come back to a similar subject I've written and spoken about before. Most people are predisposed to believe in labels.

Rich and poor.  Healthy and ill. Educated and ignorant. Employed and unemployed. This party or that party. And even when any of those things are summarily equal or readily dismissed, people make up all sorts of new labels like titles or scores or ranks, usually touting the importance of one based on nothing more than their own placement, temporary conditions and meaningless anecdotes. None of it matters.

Whoever you are. Whatever your title. Whenever you graduated. However happy/unhappy your home.

It will change, for better or worse. There isn't even anything you can do about it, except to be continually doing something about it. The act of doing tends to offer up its own remedy of sorts.

Elsewhere on the net today, I reviewed the book The Fault In Our Stars by John Green. You can read the review if you like. I wanted to mention it here because the teenage protagonist shuffles along as a terminally ill cancer patient until someone enters her life and has a transformative affect on her.

How to lead without labels. 

The person who transforms her life isn't a parent. He isn't a teacher. He isn't a politician, statesman, or community activist. He isn't a businessperson, journalist, or social media superstar. He's just a boy.

Although there are a great many other things to take away from the book, the fact that this boy can have a profound and lasting affect on the protagonist, no matter how long she lives, seems to be an important one that the author never intended. Anyone can be the spark in another's life. Anyone can be a leader.

It requires two things. The leader has to believe that someone can overcome whatever temporary condition afflicts them, probably because they themselves have already learned the lesson. And then, the person being transformed has to believe they can overcome it too.

There is no other requirement, which leads me to believe that leadership doesn't come from the measure of temporary conditions, but rather the character of the person making the effort. We learned as much last year in Egypt. Nobodies become somebodies, and the rest is just scale.

In the book, Augustus Waters transforms three people. In real life, Scott transforms thousands.
If we want to transform education or even the economy, it seems to me we could start the same way.
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