When I was in graduate school, I took a class on leadership. We studied reasons people were recognized as leaders, theories about what got them to the positions they were in, their leadership styles and so on. One of our assignments was to select a leader of our choice and do a deep-dive analysis into these areas of their arc.
Now, I’ve always been one to go in a little bit of a different direction when it came to such assignments. After all, while other fourth graders were giving speeches on making the perfect PBJ sandwich, I was covering the steps of a knee replacement (my dad worked for an orthopedic manufacturer). And, just to get a rise out of my teachers in middle school and high school, I chose term paper topics like palmistry, satanism, Woodstock and modern dance. I know, I know … such a rebel.
So, when it came time to choose a topic for this grad school project, I knew I wanted to go a different direction. And while I didn’t pick one of the obvious choices – a.k.a. Jesus, Ghandi, MLK, Mother Teresa or any U.S. president – I didn’t think my selection was too far out there. She was clearly a leader to me. And that would be the amazing Aretha Franklin.
Reading about Franklin’s life was entertaining, interesting and enlightening. I don’t think anyone would argue she’s not one of the greatest. Her voice alone could move mountains. She has won 18 Grammys and is one of the best-selling musicians of all time. In fact, she was the first woman ever inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (And did you know she was born in Memphis, y’all?)
After all these years since I completed this class project, one very important story about Franklin has stuck with me. She grew up singing in church and had an intense love for gospel music. Man, I can’t imagine what that church service must have been like with Aretha in the choir! She often said she would get so wrapped up in the music and become so overwhelmed with excitement and emotion, that she would pee her pants. Right there in church – she just couldn’t hold it!
So, what does this tell us? Regardless of the many accolades she has received and the countless world stages she has flat-out owned, it’s clear to me that Franklin is a leader because of one thing: Passion. She was doing what she loved – and she loved it so intensely all her life – that there was no way we could not R.E.S.P.E.C.T. her.
When your talents are combined with a vigorous passion for what you are doing, you will succeed. I know passion is the key to great leadership; and if you sit and think of every great leader, and not-so-great leader you’ve ever had, I bet you’ll see the connection. If you are currently trying your hardest to be a leader in something you’re not passionate about, do yourself (and your potential followers) a favor, and get out now. Find where your passion lies, and then sing about it to anyone who will listen until you … well … lose control.
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