There’s a big difference between positional leadership and actual leadership. Positional leadership demands followers because of a title. Real leadership just leads through a myriad of key leadership qualities (check out The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, by John Maxwell as a primer).

Among many other qualities good leaders have, a clear vision (even if developed over time), an instinctive gut feel or sort of sixth sense at the beginning of the bell curve that others around them don’t quite understand, and a willingness to live (and die if needed) for a cause bigger than themselves.

Today we celebrate a great leader’s life. Martin Luther King, Jr. faced the possibility and even the probability of death often. He had a family. He loved life. More that that, he saw change that needed to happen and his faith told him he was “called for such a time as this”, for a purpose bigger than himself.

Historical leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., or Abraham Lincoln, knew their lives were constantly at risk. Both had previous attempts on their lives yet kept leading with poise and confidence in their purpose.

There’s a scene in Saving Private Ryan, where Captain Miller (Played by Tom Hanks) climbs over a small hill and breaks down crying after losing a second soldier in their seemingly pointless search for Private Ryan. He wipes his tears, puts his own feelings behind him, then stands up to once again lead his unit on a tough assignment they were called to take on.

Where are the selfless leaders today? Our country needs them. Our businesses need them. Our non-profits need them. Our churches need them. I’m blessed to know some really good leaders who inspire me to live for more and to lead better. If any of us claim to be a leader, it’s time to live selflessly for a cause bigger than ourselves, and to challenge other leaders to do the same.

As we celebrate a great leader’s life today, take time to reflect on how you can selflessly lead using the sphere of influence you’ve been given.

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