Leaders make a difference when they are different.
But different how?
Firstly, leaders must become different from who they are now. By that, I don’t mean adopting a new identity or persona but through personal growth.
As Max De Pree says: "In the end, it is important to remember that we cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are."
Self-development remains one of the greatest responsibilities of a leader to herself and to the people she leads.
Secondly, leaders must become different from other leaders.
I submit that the world’s greatest leaders did not become great by following the leadership principles of other great leaders. Great leaders create and live out their own leadership principles.
The world’s next great leader will not be someone who is emulating Nelson Mandela or Ronald Reagan or Mahatma Gandhi or Angela Merkel or Barack Obama. She will blaze her own trail of greatness and so will you, if you develop the unique attributes with which you were born, acquire new skills, and become intentional about using your experiences and unique set of influencers to cultivate your own leadership principles.
Thirdly, leaders must become different from that which they seek to change. I don’t mean a better person than the rest of the crowd but a person who is different from the rest of the crowd.
When just about every other leader was seeking either separation from the Union (Southern leaders) or subjugation of the “rebels” (Northern leaders), Abraham Lincoln preserved the destiny of a country by seeking unity.
His second inaugural address reflects his remarkably different view (neither separatist nor conqueror) “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations”
We can make a difference by being different. As Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “we must be the change we hope to see in the world.”