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Becoming a Leader in a Land of Plenty



Becoming a Leader in a Land of Plenty
Photo: Shutterstock

Hideaki Akaiwa was several miles inland when an 8.9-magnitude earthquake caused a tsunami that would completely cover his hometown of Ishinomaki in ten feet of ocean water. Instead of running for higher ground, Akaiwa grabbed a wetsuit and began the slow and possibly heartbreaking work of finding his family — his mother and his wife of 20 years.

After locating his house under the ocean water, Akaiwa found his wife struggling to breathe in what remained of the air pocket in the upper floor of their home. Arriving just in time to save his wife from death, Akaiwa went back to find his mother, who was patiently awaiting rescue on the second floor of her flooded home.

Akaiwa stepped forward at a time when others where stepping backward and buckling under the weight of personal loss and heartbreak.

After saving his family and following the arrival of rescue teams, he could have considered his work done. Yet, leaders like Hideaki Akaiwa don’t stop when the required work is over; they keep striving beyond what is immediately necessary or reasonable.

Leaders really only become leaders in times of trouble or trial. Otherwise, how would you know whom to follow when the waves come? How else would you know where to look for rescue?

At least one thing remains true of all great leaders: they consider and care for the welfare of those they lead.

The same principle applies to business leaders as well.

C-suite executives, founders, and entrepreneurs all over the country have taken the mantle of leadership. In May 2013, there were almost 250,000 CEOs in America. As of May 2017, the number of CEOs has jumped to reach over 400,000. There is no shortage of leaders in America.

So how do you stand out as a leader among leaders?


Above and Beyond

Perhaps the most remarkable part of Akaiwa’s story isn’t the fact that he saved his wife and mother from death. No, the most remarkable moment came after the initial two rescues. Following the rescue of his family,

Akaiwa continued to search for neighbors, friends, and even complete strangers. Wrapping his pants in plastic and duct tape to keep dry, he ventured out into the flood water to search for more people in need of help.

Most of us don’t want extra work or more responsibility. Most of us don’t want to spend late nights at the office. Most of us walk away after a hard day’s work, satisfied with what we’ve done. Some people, like Hideaki Akaiwa, don’t walk away after all is said and done — because nothing is ever ‘all said and done.’

The truth is, there is always more work to be done. In a way, true leadership is a double-edged sword, as it cuts both forward and backward; some leaders find it difficult to be content with a day’s work, always looking ahead to the next challenge, finding little comfort in rest.

There is a difficult sacrifice to be considered by any of those aspiring to head a company.

What happens when the lights go out at work? Are you often left alone at the office, trying to get ahead of business roadblocks? Do you ever find yourself lying awake at night, imagining every possible outcome to your marketing strategy and how to face the challenge ahead?

Every aspect of excelling in a leadership role will stretch you beyond what you thought possible.


Higher Education

Perhaps a common paraphrase of George Santayana’s profound line says it best: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

According to Failory, 90 percent of all startups end up failing. There are too many factors to accurately identify why this failure rate is so high, but there are likely cases where learning from the past might have helped save a company or two.

Education really is just a process of learning from the past. Every field is built on the shoulders of those who’ve come before and failed. While you don’t need to be the next Galileo or Newton, it wouldn’t hurt to learn from those who’ve helped create the world we now live in.

If you take a look at the statistics, it’s easy to see how getting a broader education might help you stand out.

According to Statistic Brain, 47 percent of CEOs in America had bachelor’s degrees in 2017, while 25 percent had master’s degrees and only 2 percent had PhDs. Though you don’t need a doctorate to lead a company, it’s clear that the more education you have received, the more you stand out from the crowd.


Better Relationships

The best leaders are relationship builders, not enders. Successful CEOs and founders create lasting and memorable friendships with clients, employees, and partners. Other leaders should remember your name, your attitude, and your willingness to cooperate.

The same should be true of your personal relationships. Great leaders are the rock of their families as much as they are the head of a company.

Such responsibility takes a good amount of humility. You need to be willing to be wrong sometimes. You need to be eager to correct your mistakes.

Leaders don’t, and probably shouldn’t, have all the answers. Those who quickly make every decision by themselves can make incorrect and even catastrophic decisions; that’s why it’s so important to build teams around yourself that complement your strengths, diminish your faults, and lighten your load.

According to Landon Taylor, CEO of Best Company, there is “nothing more damaging to the potential growth of your business than surrounding yourself with yes-men. Innovation cannot thrive in a culture of ‘I do it better than you.’ You need people by your side that is not afraid to challenge and test your decisions. There is a fine line between insubordination and constructive criticism, and we are too often afraid of the former to attempt the latter.”

No matter your profession or industry, every leader needs friends. It is, after all, one of the loneliest paths one can take in the business world, so surround yourself with a support system.


Your Time to Shine

According to, 10,000 baby boomers are retiring every day and 48 percent of the workforce will be millennials by 2020. In the next five years, we will see a huge influx of new leaders and entry-level employees.

This will lead to a vacuum, an opportunity for leaders to step up and stand out.

As you consider whether to hide from the oncoming waves or to face the flood at hand, don’t even think about walking — rush forward, become more educated, go above and beyond, sacrifice more, and build better relationships.

Chad Zollinger is the editor of The Bottom Line and writer for The Mission on Medium. For work, he is Chief Editor of the Debt and Tax blogs at Best Company. He loves writing, watching Manchester United, and enjoys a good Seinfeld reference. He also loves to challenge random people to Rubik’s Cube duels.

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