Leadership: dreaming, learning, becoming more

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- In the words of President John Quincy Adams, "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader."

Adams explained the essence of leadership in fewer than 20 words by stating that a leader is one who motivates others to be more than they thought they could be.

What Adams meant by dreaming did not mean what we do when we are asleep. Instead, he meant imagining things that could be, that do not currently exist--whether it is a new solution to a problem or to better someone or a group of individuals.

Dreaming in this context is the active and purposeful use of imagination, creativity and intuition. Visionaries are called great leaders because they are comfortable exploring the unknown, thinking and sensing what might be possible rather than accepting what already is. However, it is tough to have much in the way of vision without a solid foundation of learning.

Learning is one of the characteristics of an inquiring mind, the active search for new understanding and skills. Learning requires willingness to move beyond familiar levels of understanding. Leaders are insatiable and persistent learners, and by setting the example of personal and professional growth, others are more motivated to do the same.

Because quality leaders are open to learning, they tend to be more receptive to others' viewpoints and ideas. Consequently, they are much more likely to give honest, constructive feedback.

In addition to having a strong willingness to learn, leaders are energetic and usually accomplish a great deal. They have effective systems for organizing and planning. They set goals and follow through with them. They delegate tasks and authority and are willing to work with others toward a common goal. Leaders accomplish more because they set high standards for themselves and others and do not accept mediocrity.

By getting others to accomplish more, leaders are pushing others to become more. Becoming more means growth. Leaders are constantly expanding others' capacity to grow. To cite a few examples, it may include encouraging others to become better public speakers, more skilled listeners or better managers.

Over time, leaders become more true to themselves and are prone to expressing more of their talents and character over time. Just as an acorn is a seed, it "becomes more" by growing into an oak tree. As a result, leadership isn't something that you are born with--it is something that you can learn.

Although leaders frequently do have great authority and control, their true power comes from their ability to inspire. People support and follow leaders because they respect and admire them. They are worthy of loyalty.

There is a misconception that leaders motivate their followers but the truth is that leaders can only spark and cultivate the desire in people to dream, learn, do and become more.

Perhaps Adams said it best when he said that it is the person's actions that determine whether he or she truly is a leader. It is not the title on the business card or name on the door, but the individual's day-in and day-out conduct and actions that determine whether he or she is a leader. Or as the maxim goes--it's not what you say, it's what you do.