Too often, when imagining a leader our minds conjure images of public figures who gained stature via visible effort, sustained intensity, and acquisition of respect from those around them. The archetypes for leadership often include the Jeff Bezos and Oprah Winfreys of the world. Self-made individuals who ascended to the top of their respective domains primarily via an indomitable will and everlasting ambition. I propose that the true meaning of being a leader is the ability to instill confidence and motivation in our teammates and observers.
I am from Syracuse, New York. According to a study by Rutgers, the mid-tier city in upstate New York ranks amongst the highest in the nation for concentrated poverty in the nation. Too often, our most talented youth do not approach the realization of their personal and professional potential due to a lack of structured opportunities for growth. Generations grow older, but the circumstances often remain the same. The feeling is often one of skeptical hope, a reserved desire that one day some outside force will disrupt the cycle of discouragement.
When I was in high school, about 16 years old, three of my friends started a clothing company. I watched my peers transform their vision and ambition into a tangible product that was enormously desirable. These young men developed sketches from the deep corners of notebooks during class into beautiful designs and styles all centered around the principles of clarity, ambition, and inspiration. Our classmates and students from the surrounding areas began to buy the attire in waves, and the business grew.
Eventually, I graduated from high school and moved to Colorado. My first year at school, right after the Superbowl I received some information that made my stomach hurt. One of the founders of the company had been shot dead in his neighborhood. I only shared a casual relationship with this man and I was heartbroken. Thoughts of the devastation that his co-founders and close friends were feeling only amplified the shock and sadness. I assumed, foolishly that would be the end of the clothing company.
Thankfully, I was very much mistaken. Instead of submitting to the sorrow of the tragedy the other founders of the organization increased their efforts. They scaled up production and continued to distribute new releases that eclipsed the sales of their previous efforts. I watched as other similar entrepreneurial ventures were started amongst my other peers, clearly inspired by the spirit and actions of our fallen friend. To this day, three years later these resilient individuals are still working to grow their venture. The events that I witnessed through the launching and development of this company were the most emblematic of leadership that I have ever had the pleasure to observe. These individuals manifested their ambition into reality by engaging with and supporting with one another. But perhaps more importantly, they provided an example of courage and self-determination which has produced a lasting legacy in their home community.