As part of my ongoing reflection on the CNN Heroes program I would like to discuss a specific point that struck me.
At one point in the CNN Heroes show, host Anderson Cooper remarked: “We’ve seen tonight how a personal crisis can transform an ordinary individual into a hero.”
While my goal here is not to take issue with this statement or its author, whose efforts to host this show I admire greatly. However, I do feel we should make a distinction—one that we have discussed in the past on this blog—between life’s events and the processing of life’s events. This distinction is useful, as it gives us some important insight into how leadership happens.
For example, on a particular night on his way home from work, Jorge Munoz drove by some homeless men and was moved by their hunger and poverty. Something inside prompted him to act, and to say “I can do something to change this!”
Thousands of others drive past similar scenes in New York and other cities every day, but most never roll down the window to ask, “Are you hungry?”, or ask themselves, “What can I do to help?”
My point is this: It is not the event of seeing the homeless people hungry on that street corner, or to feel compassion for them, that is remarkable. What is extraordinary is the way that Jorge processes that event and turns it into a life changing event for the others…and for himself as well.
So, what makes some people process the events in ways that seem extraordinary? This is a vast subject that we will treat at length as this blog unfolds in the coming months. For now, it might be useful to recall the story of Gandhi.
When I cited the example of Gandhi several months ago, I made the point that there is a great myth about leaders: that extraordinary leadership is the consequence of an unusual life experience, a crucible or a personal crisis.
In fact, this “extraordinary experience” myth is one of the most widespread misconceptions about leadership, one that I have seen time and again in my work. This concept, that effective leaders have extraordinary past experiences, formative events that shape them as leaders, is one of the numerous beliefs of society that is simply not true.
The CNN Heroes – seemingly ordinary people who have an extraordinary impact – underlines the point that leaders do not necessarily have extraordinary pasts.