Leaders Must Take Action


“Once upon a time a wealthy Athenian was making a sea voyage with some companions. Suddenly a powerful storm blew up and the ship was overturned. All the other passengers started to swim except the Athenian, who was only praying to Goddess Athena making promises if only she could save him. Then, one of his companions approached him and said: While you are praying to Athena, start moving your arms”
Aesop (620 -564 BC) was a fabulist or story teller credited with a number of fables, which nowadays are known as the Aesop’s Fable.

If you want your dreams to come true, don’t sleep…
(Yiddish Proverb)

Who said that life is fair? People make new beginnings by different starting points since their origins, backgrounds; social and cultural environments as well as visions are diverse. Who can doubt the enormous gap between a wealthy man and a starving child in Africa? The average man must usually confront many obstacles and face millions of problems if he wants to survive and stand a chance of at least a minimum success. But nothing comes from nothing. People cannot expect to proceed in life expecting glorious days of prosperity if they do not take action.

Certainly, there is always the factor of luck, which determines our fates. It is a crucial factor and we shouldn’t undermine its powerful effects. A man, who has bad luck, usually faces more difficulties and misfortunes. As Napoleon said: “I have made all the calculations, fate will do the rest”. Indeed. The Battle of Austerlitz was one of Napoleon’s greatest victories while he was defeated in the Battle of Waterloo just because a sudden rain weakened his offensive movements and retarded his attack against the enemy. The point is that Napoleon did what he thought he should do; he did not stand inactive in front of a window looking at the rain. Regardless of the result our actions may challenge our luck.

The problems never end but the hardest part is detecting them. Albert Einstein said: “A problem well stated is a problem half solved”. And added: “It’s not that I am so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer”.


Leaders take responsibility

Most people lose their battles very soon because it’s easier to accuse others than to take responsibility. They blame capitalism, their bad luck, their parents, the government, the universe; they blame crabs, which go sideways. Everybody is responsible for their misfortune except them. In fact, this notion contradicts itself. We blame the establishment but at the same time we expect too much from it. How can we expect from the arsonist to become the fireman? People don’t realize that their active participation is essential. If they are just watching the fire without making any efforts to extinguish it, they will never become the heroes of the story. They will always stand outside looking in; they will just resemble Muppet Show’s Statler and Waldorf, who – nailed in the box seat – were always complaining about everything without doing anything.

People – especially leaders – tend to forget other people’s expectations from them. Perhaps, they ignore that their actions should speak louder than their words. It’s easier to withdraw from daily obligations and responsibilities rather than facing and dealing with a certain problem or situation. People are creatures of habits and easiness. Believing that an invisible enemy is responsible about everything leads them back to the armchair. They just accept their fate and grab the TV remote control. Extraordinary achievements are not pursued this way. They require active steps towards the accomplishment of the goals. They demand taking action to fix what’s wrong, to approach people, to stand up for their team, to make efforts in order to reach a vision or a dream. The engine must be turned on.

Take kids, for example, who start taking piano lessons. They often give it up before they reach the point of playing their favor tunes. For, they have to put up with the boring piano exercises, which last for a long time. Think about it. Grown-ups do exactly the same thing: there are people who would do anything to reach their goals regardless of how painful or boring this procedure would be; and there are people who just wait to hear the news when their neighbor turns on his radio.

Who wouldn’t love things to be easy?

The problem emerges from within societies and the dominant social values. People – especially in western societies – are overprotective over their children in such an extent that they grow to be passive citizens and incapable individuals, who do not have the courage and the strength to handle insignificant everyday problems. On the contrary, people support the prevailing idea of easy and quick profit. They do not merely support but also sustain the idea of receiving benefits without making any efforts or personal sacrifices. Hence, they perpetuate a social pattern, which is basically offensive to human nature since it destroys creativity, leads to the lack of initiatives and kills the natural impulse for action.

All leaders or successful and prominent people (not necessary wealthy) always start out having a vision. Regardless whether they had ambitious dreams or down to earth goals, the importance is that they had some. As William of Orange (King of England, 1650-1702) said: “There are no favorable winds for the one who doesn’t know where he is going”. In fact, it is a prerequisite in order to turn the human engine on.

Is it enough? Certainly not! Dreams are made for people. All people dream about a better tomorrow but what difference could dreaming make if one doesn’t make plans, which would follow down to the letter? The road to success is long and full of rejects and obstacles but one must walk through it. After all, it’s better to feel sorry about the things you’ve done than to feel sorry for the things you haven’t done.

Most people let their dreams die once they realize the difficult journey to paradise. One day they wake up from their illusory dreams and understand that they need to make many sacrifices, associate with people they dislike, sleep less and basically change their life styles. At this point new leaders are being born while the rest stay behind blaming their destiny and society for their misfortunes. As a journalist once wrote: “The winners make things happen, while losers let things happen”.

Care about YOUR actions

People always judge by the results and they tend to be jealous when the results of other people’s efforts are good. They never think (or perhaps care) what these people went through in order to reach this point. They are just hypocrites, who envy a firm body, a successful manager, a spiritual man, a famous scientist or an excellent artist while they know deep inside the endless hours these people dedicated in gyms, labs, offices or libraries in order to reach the point of fame and success. They just choose to see what they want to see and delude themselves in believing that they can climb the ladder of success without paying the cost of endeavors.

They simply deny reality while they manifest signs of laziness and complete lack of self-confidence. It was these people that the American politician, William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925) talked about when he said: “Destiny is not a matter of chance; it’s a matter of choice. It’s not a thing to be waited for; it is a thing to be achieved”.

Certainly many people would disagree. These are the hardworking people, who struggle day in day out, to put bread on their table. They would probably want to move on but they feel trapped in a daily routine, which doesn’t leave them any spare time. Isn’t true that most of them just put their head in the noose themselves? They think a priori that they cannot exceed certain limits. Antonio Porchia (1885-1968), an Argentinian poet, put it elegantly: “If you don’t raise your eyes, you will think you’re at the highest point”. People should never stop aiming higher and higher if they want to fly. And in order to achieve that, they must also believe it.

Wake up your luck

We must not fool ourselves thinking that if we aim high we must also take gigantic steps and make superhuman efforts to get there. A Persian proverb says: “Go and wake up your luck”. We will arrive at the end of the road by making small steps every day. If you are a low-level worker in a factory you can’t become the head of the trade union in just one day. You must start building your way in. We all start from somewhere. We learn a foreign language; we read newspapers; we attend lectures and debates and we dedicate some extra hours to learn more about our occupations. One step leads to another. Every small window may open a larger door. The possibility to take a promotion has just grown.

No one asked you to be Superman

We are not superheroes; none asked us to be. Neither anyone can guarantee us success. The importance is not only reaching the end of the road as much as participating in the process. Through action, new paths and horizons may emerge, which may lead to even higher targets.

Sometimes people need a motivation in order to act. Someone must set the alarm clock, which will awaken them from their deep sleep. Do you remember the movie “Dead Poets Society”? Within an aged and inactive system emerged the enthusiasm and the initiative of a single tutor, who was passionate enough to provoke changes as well as rake up and challenge the educational methods. Educationalists, families, managers or spiritual individuals must always find ways to motivate and inspire inactive people to create.

Take control today

Human reflexes need to be activated in order for people to take action. “Take control of your destiny or someone else will” said the American manager, Jack Welch. It is humiliating to let other people control oneself. Many people managed to be great leaders because their ego urged them to. It takes self-control and requires persistence, willingness and dedication to one’s target because it’s not easy to reject the easy solutions and subside one’s inner desires.

If you are a successful man, be an example to a friend. Make him get up from his coach, turn the TV off and join together a sports team or a group of volunteers. It doesn’t matter what your choice would be, the importance lies on your effort. He may discover a part of himself he didn’t know till now or his life may have a new meaning. You may have succeeded in making his life interesting. That would be a friend’s best gift!

Carpe diem. Seize the day. The famous phrase of the Latin poet, Oratio (65-8 BC) reminds us that people don’t live forever. “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever” said Mahatma Gandhi. Isn’t a shame to throw away our lives sitting on the sofa all day doing nothing? Active people are in love with life and also aware that it’s too short to be wasted. It’s a gift and smart people take advantage of the time they are given not out of vanity but because they want to leave their mark behind them. They exploit every minute of the hour, every hour of a day to be creative, to enrich their knowledge, to open their horizons, to share views and experiences, to make history. Every day is another day. How can you achieve that without being active, curious or enthusiastic?

We must understand that leadership comes as a natural aftermath of a certain life style: a person has interests, pursues dreams, cares about his work and his environment and he is involved in various activities of his preference. It is the existence of this constant movement that will probably lead him to leadership. Not the other way around. An anonymous editor once wrote: “We may experience action without success, but never success without action”. Of course speaking of constant movements we don’t imply that people should suddenly run the marathon. When we say “seize the day” we don’t imply to become workaholics, who take out their personal problems within work. The magic word is balance. We just make our days more constructive and interesting, even if we just read some pages of a good book.

Res, non verba. Actions, not words. Words describe the world but actions change it.

Yet, we must not turn our backs to the cruel reality; and we must not try to make things look good when they are not. There is too much suffering in this world and we must not forget it. The average people cannot control illnesses, wars or any natural disasters. There are examples of people who have struggled in life and yet the little castles they built were brought down by sudden events or even insignificant factors. We live in societies, where the end is more valued than the means, and hence, people may get disappointed because their contribution and recognition came too late or not at all.
But let’s not bury our heads in the sand, life may be unfair but it’s also unique. The one and only. If we deny the chances it gives us the ship will sail anyway with us or without us. If we withdraw from life by not participating or struggling for a cause in a daily basis we must consider ourselves defeated before we even step foot in the rink.

Fighters. This is what we ought to be. Regardless of our location in the world or position in the social structure; regardless of the misfortunes destiny has brought us, we must fight back. We owe it to ourselves. It’s a journey which we should enjoy in spite its difficulties.

There is a poem, written by the great Greek poet, Constantine Kavafies, which refers to the values of this journey. It gives the full meaning of it in just a few lines. It’s called “Ithaca” – which is a Greek Island. But in fact Ithaca stands for your goals and dreams….Enjoy!

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon – do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you.

Pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many, when,
with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
visit many Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from scholars.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithacas mean.

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