How Do Leaders “Pay It Forward”?

We’re all familiar with the metaphorical statement “Pay it forward.” We use it to mean what you do is repeated by others for others, as in good deeds. To start a cycle of good deeds, do a good deed.

“Pay it forward,” is, and has always been, a reality in leadership.

We all know of leaders who have changed lives (for good and bad) by the way they led. Movies like Elizabeth and Kingdom of Heaven are among hundreds that Hollywood has produced showing the monumental changes a powerful leader can make.

Street Level

A young man I know grew up in an abusive environment. He had criminals for friends, developed severe authority issues, dropped out of school, and was probably on the road to prison.  But due to the efforts of one leader, the once troubled youth has had multiple successful careers, earned three college degrees, has his own very successful company, and contributes greatly to society. Most of us know similar stories. People who accepted their responsibility for the development of those they lead and made a difference for people who, without that leader’s influence, would be leading a very different life.

Leaders are the ones that help people discover their potential and capabilities. They help them discover their strengths and weaknesses and improve them both. They show them expectations and help individuals develop personal standards for behaviors and performance. Leaders, through authority, persistence, and proximity are arguably the most influential people in our lives. When leaders help us discover that we can become anyone we want to, and then they help us find the path to becoming that person, they set us on a course that often lasts, and defines, a life time. We learn by example and through multiple exposures. So what we practice, we become.

If I Could Change the World

When leaders learn and then pass on positive behaviors and beliefs, they change the world one person at a time. The down side is that when a leader chooses not to learn effective and positive leadership techniques but decides to wing it instead, many times negative behaviors and beliefs are spread into the next generation. And this changes people, too.

In times past, pursuing the skills and techniques to becoming a positive and effective leader was much more difficult. In our age of information, where most answers are a few keystrokes away, becoming the leader that builds a positive future is much easier. In fact, with all the books, seminars, training workshops, etc., a leader almost has to work at not learning.

The blessings we enjoy as Americans and people around the globe are the results of past leaders who built positive legacies through those they interacted with. People like: Aristotle, Saladin, Martin Luther, Leonardo Da Vinci, Queen Elizabeth I, George Washington, John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., just to name a few. People who change lives and their world for the better by paying forward a desire to become more as individuals and as people, positive values, endless possibilities, and most importantly, the knowledge that every one of us can make a difference if we choose to!

When you think of the impact leaders can have on individuals and even the world, a few important questions come to mind:

  • What will be our legacy as a leader? What will we pass on to the future generations?
  • What kind of world will we leave behind us for the ones we love?
  • Do we do enough to make a positive difference?
  • Are paying forward positive beliefs, behaviors, and hope worth adding the skills and techniques to become that kind of leader?

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A. D. Roberts
is President/CEO of A. D. Roberts Consulting, Inc. in North Augusta, SC
He helps with Leadership & Interpersonal Communication Consulting &Training
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