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Seven Steps to Making a Difference for the World

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Dr. Leo P. Corriveau, Plymouth State University



Step 1: Preparation for Leadership

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In some fundamental sense, we can not learn how to have relationships, how to raise kids, how to lead others – how to be human, if you will. Why? Because to a great extent it is the very condition of not knowing, of being vulnerable to and surprised by life, of being unable to manage or control our lovers, our children, or our colleagues that makes us human. (Farson, 40)

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We can not begin to accept the responsibility of leadership without first acknowledging our humanity, both in its limits and its marvels. The first task in knowing that humanity is to come to terms with the limitations that being human places upon us and, paradoxically, by accepting these limitations we free ourselves to receive the boundless riches that human existence holds for each of us. We who lead cannot afford the self congratulation which comes from seeing ourselves above the fray of human striving, nor can we allow ourselves to be fooled by the skewed vision that such egotism affords. Instead, if we are to be worthy of guiding others, we must first have the strength to accept our own human failings for we cannot see the truth in others until we see the truth in ourselves.


Bennis writes, “To become a leader, then, you must become yourself, become the maker of your own life”. He observes that knowing thyself is “the most difficult task any of us faces.  But until you truly know yourself, strengths and weaknesses, know what you want to do and why you want to do it, you cannot succeed in any but the most superficial sense of the word.”  (Kouzes, 59)


Bennis is doing more than simply encouraging us to become the “captain of our own ship”. The making of a life in the truest sense happens from the inside out and not from the outside in. We are, many times, so busy becoming who we think we need to be (or should be) that we often ignore that faint voice of the true self within our soul. The choice to reconcile that faint inner voice with the cacophony of the outer world and to balance the two within our human being takes courage to begin, determination to continue, and humility to accept the truths that unfold. Such a life journey will in the end afford you a sense of who you are, your place in the world, and that you belong where you have chosen to be.


Our best qualities are integrity, dedication, magnanimity, humility, openness, and creativity.  These, of course, are the basic ingredients of leadership, and our unwillingness to tap these qualities in ourselves explains, to a large extent, the leadership shortage.  (Bennis, 117)


“The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” Each human being is filled with the great qualities of the human race. The choice to use those qualities or more precisely to answer to their demands is not easy and, many times, is contradictory to our own sense of self preservation. There will always be a shortage of leaders because the way of the honorable leader is strewn with the choice between “doing what is right for me” and “doing what is right for all”. To lead with honor is to accept one’s responsibility to do what is right for all, to uphold one’s faith in the goodness of humankind, and to do so with full knowledge of the probable cost to one’s self.


Step 2: The Notion of Trust


Being seen as someone who can be trusted, who has high integrity, and who is honest and truthful is essential.  But if you have a sense that the person is not being honest, you will not accept the message, and you will not willingly follow.  So the credibility check can reliably be simplified to just one question:  “Do I trust this person?” (Kouzes,  24)


People who choose to follow do so as much for emotional reasons as for rational ones. Trust is one of those “gut feelings”. Trusting someone does not mean that we assume they will make no mistakes. On the contrary, trust implies that when that person does make mistakes that those errors were made from a position of honor and integrity. We choose to follow because we trust at a “gut level” not that they are always going to be right but instead, that they are always seeking to do what is right.


Leaders must reach out and attend to all their constituents if they wish to be credible.  Credibility, like quality and service, is determined by the constituents, so leaders must be able to view themselves as their constituents do.  It requires effort and new skills; one benefit is that a natural by-product of attending to other people is that they in turn come to trust us and we trust them.  (Kouzes, 90)


Trust in leadership is not created by those who lead it is given by those who follow.


Step 3: Focus & Clarity


As perspective is vital to the painter or writer, it is vital to leaders and their associates. (Bennis, 158)


Perspective, it should be remembered, is from a single point or position and therefore there are as many perspectives of what is seen as there are positions to see it from. Artists must be able to visualize how others see differently from different positions and more importantly, how others see differently from the exact same position as the artist. So too, must leaders. It should also be remembered that what the artist “sees” not only comes from what they empirically observe but from what they feel in their heart and what resonates in their soul. So too, must leaders.




Gandhi said, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.”  (Bennis, 154)


Leadership is about living the vision. To create the pathway between the present and the future for others to follow we must be the bridge which connects the two. This can only be done by consciously living our vision of the future in the present moment.


All leaders see in a special way … Leaders never confuse that which is real with that which is reality …  Furthermore, leaders know that what we see is completely a matter of choice.  But beyond all that, leaders know that how we see and what we see are exactly the same. (Cook, 41)


What “is” is. How we see it (interpret it), however, is a matter of our own choosing. We all have elected at one time or another to look the other way when faced with harsh facts of what “is”. Intellectually or emotionally it is many times an understandable necessity for survival. But it therefore also follows that we can choose to change the depth of our intellectual and emotional vision and see beyond the constraints of what we perceive to be our present reality. Leaders need to have the courage to say as Martin Luther King said, “I have a dream.”


Step 4: Commitment


A Chinese proverb is useful in this regard:  “Tell me, I may listen.  Teach me, I may remember.  Involve me, I will do it.”  (Kouzes, 146)


Commitment is not possible to attain without caring. Caring is never about the outside it always about the inside. Until a leader creates a way for people to feel involved they will not be able to generate the emotional linkage between involvement, caring, and committing.


One of the most common mistakes made in attempting to create shared values is announcing which are most important and should guide the department (or company).

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