How this Element of Leadership Can Overcome Your Lack of Resources

It’s the essence of leadership to be passionate.

There is a science of leadership, but it’s secondary to the hunger and thirst to make a difference, to make a contribution that matters. If you are not passionately engaged in your work, you might ask yourself why. If others are not passionately engaged, it’s essential to find out why.

Great leaders have the “passion to see it through,” as Seth Godin says. “The willingness to find a different route when the first one doesn’t work. The certainty that in fact, there is a way, and you care enough to find it. This is a choice, not something you get certified in.”While proactive people are passionate, they are also resourceful. Proactivity means you find a way. (Listen to my podcast interview with Seth Godin here.)

More than a century ago, a young African-American woman named Mary McLeod Bethune started the “Literary and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls” in Daytona, Florida. The fifteenth child of former slaves, Mary grew up in deep poverty, but with her passion for learning she pleaded for a place in school and eventually became a teacher. Recognizing that black girls of that time and place had little opportunity for an education, she became fired up with the idea of starting her own school for them.

Mary’s cash resources consisted of a dollar and a half, but that didn’t stop her. Her resources were limited only by her ingenuity, and that was unlimited. The only place she could find for her school was a shack next to the town dump, so she cleaned it up and used it. There was no money for supplies, so she made desks out of old boxes, pencils from charred wood, and ink out of boiled-down berry juice. Her desk was a packing case. “I lay awake at nights, contriving how to make peach baskets into chairs.”

The school opened in 1904 with five eager girls, six books, and the devoted Mary McLeod Bethune as the teacher. While teaching reading, writing, and math, she also taught them to be as resourceful as she was. What could they do to help support the school? One girl knew how to make a mattress by stuffing it with moss. Others knew how to bake pies. So they made and sold mattresses to their neighbors and they offered pieces of sweet potato pie to the tourists who descended on Daytona Beach for the auto races. That’s how they paid the $11 monthly rent on their school. “I considered cash money as the smallest part of my resources,” Mary later wrote. “I had faith in a loving God, faith in myself, and a desire to serve.” Mary’s little school eventually grew into Bethune-Cookman University, thriving today with nearly 4,000 students and a $34-million endowment.

No one who knows the story of Mary McLeod Bethune can talk with a straight face about being short on resources. Our own ingenuity is the greatest of our resources, but only proactive people can leverage that resource. That ingenuity is fueled by our passion.

A few questions to consider:

  • How resourceful are you?
  • How resourceful are the people around you?
  • Do you live in a culture of helplessness, constantly restrained by a lack of passion and resources from making the great contribution you are capable of?
  • Do you and your team have the passion to see things through?
  • What should you be doing right now?