Let's be honest, admiring the likes of Elon Musk and Steve Jobs is inspiring, but it can also be intimidating. While these larger-than-life leaders show us what's possible, they can also make those who are just starting out in their careers (and who are, perhaps, not blessed with outsized self-confidence) feel that being such a leader requires a kind of brilliance that they may never be able to muster.
But according to Start with Why author Simon Sinek, that's exactly the wrong lesson to draw from these visionaries. Of course, you can't leap from being an idealistic young person to a world-changing leader all in one go, he tells ambitious would-be trailblazers.
Don't know your purpose yet? Borrow someone else's.
There's an intermediary step. Before we can become great leaders, we need to be great followers. And the great leaders of the world are ideally placed to help us with that often overlooked stage in the journey.
"There's this overwhelming pressure on entrepreneurs, or any of us for that matter, that we all have to have a vision," he explained in a Big Think video recently. "I think it puts an unfair stress and an unfair burden on all of us."
Which isn't to say you can just shrug and forget the whole question of your purpose in life. Instead, Sinek says, if articulating your own vision is too big a task for you at your current stage of life, lean on someone further along than you.
"We have to have direction. We have to have a north star. We have to know where we're going," Sinek insists, but "it doesn't have to be the direction we set. It can be the direction that somebody else sets. So it's very important for us to find a leader or find a company or find a vision in whom we believe so that our work is contributing to building that."
He gives the example of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. "The rest of us, we said I'm following him. I'm following that vision. That's the vision I believe in. And that's the point. We should all find a vision that we believe in," Sinek says, "but we don't have to invent it and we don't have to originate it."
Passing the torch
Eventually, if you're passionate about serving others and improving the world, you may develop your own vision that can fire up others. You may, in other words, evolve into a great leader yourself, but that usually comes after a period of signing up to support another person's vision.
So don't feel bad if you aspire to leadership but currently lack the fiery sense of purpose that attracts and inflames others to do great work. It's not awkward or weak for would-be leaders to start out as followers. In fact, it's probably a sign you understand that mission is more important than ego, and it's a great way to learn how to be a leader yourself.
Interested in more of Sinek's insights? Check out the complete video here.