A few years ago, I attended a talk in Boise by Dr. Tererai Trent. Dr. Trent grew up on a cattle field in Zimbabwe and was sold in exchange for a cow at age 11. Her story was remarkable, and her words were inspiring. I remember feverishly taking notes and feeling her words reverberate through me as she spoke.
That day she taught us “Leadership is action, not position.” She explained the importance of authenticity and nurturing the “hunger to make a difference.” She challenged the audience to develop that hunger and choose to make a difference every day. Positions, she emphasized, come and go, but true leadership is built on consistent actions.
Very few people in this lifetime will measure up to the actions taken by Dr. Trent. Her hunger for knowledge is legendary and the results of her hard work have blessed thousands. However, in our own ways, we can learn from and follow her example.
Another mentor of mine taught me a similar lesson about the importance of action. About 15 years ago, we were visiting an elderly woman in our neighborhood to see if she needed any help. It was a very pleasant visit and I ended our time there saying, very sincerely, “let us know if we can do anything for you.”
As we walked back to the car, my mentor turned to me and said, “The world is filled with people who say, ‘let me know if I can ever help.’ Don’t be like that, choose to take action. You already know what she needs.” From our visit, we learned of at least a dozen actions that would bless her life, so we decided to act. Over the next several weeks, one by one, we met her needs and it was an unforgettable lesson for me. That experience taught me this — the most noble of intentions pale in comparison to the simplest of actions.
Recently, I have been reminded repeatedly how this pandemic ruthlessly discriminates against the most disadvantaged Idahoans. It is the working poor in Idaho who suffer disproportionately both on the medical side and on the financial stimulus side. Are we surprised? Are we paying attention?
We should not feel guilty for focusing on our own livelihoods, families, and closest friends during a crisis. These actions are normal and responsible. But, as we recover and gather ourselves, it is time to look around and take action. What are the opportunities to make a difference today in our community? Who needs your help? Who is suffering, misunderstood, and scared?
Now, on top of a global pandemic and the economic challenges that followed, we have once again witnessed social injustice in our country. The awareness feels different this time and many Americans are genuinely ready to help make change. It starts with listening — truly absorbing the discourse of those who have suffered a lifetime of injustice. Authentic communication is critical right now. In a world poisoned with uncertainty and fear, positive actions can be a potent antidote. There is so much opportunity to serve in our community. As Dr. Trent articulated, “develop a hunger to make a difference” and instead of waiting to be asked to help a friend or a neighbor, take action. Let simple random acts of kindness enrich your days.
America’s greatest days are ahead. We will get through this. Leadership is action and we can all do a little more to serve others and lead our families, our communities and our country as we recover and prepare for the challenges ahead.