It starts with an idea. A thought intensifies in your mind until it becomes full-body sensory overload. You can't predict when an idea this profound will hit you, but when it does, you know you have to pay attention. You sense that this spark is the seed of something bigger, perhaps helpful to a lot of people.
All of our lives changed on 9/11. Mine changed when I faced death, standing under the towers as the second plane went in, running from the burst of flames as I sprinted toward the subway station.
On wobbly legs, sucking back tears, I pushed against the flood of unaware commuters moving in the other direction. As life goes, I had no subway fare left on my Metrocard so I moved toward the station attendant to buy a one-way pass. I wasn't sure if I'd make it out the other side alive, so why buy a round-trip?
Slipping into one of the last subway cars, watching the doors close in front of me, I had only one regret: I'd just left so many people behind. How could I do that?
Alone in my seat, hugging my knees into my chest, I was furious with myself. Why had I left? The idea that consumed me on that day: I would never run again. I'd just witnessed unfathomable violence and human dysfunction. My life from then on would be about leadership and about paying close attention to big ideas — ones that reduce violence and suffering while increasing peace.
I often ask women entrepreneurs if they see themselves as "leaders." It's an unsettling question, especially for those who still confuse power and vanity. Predictably, I hear “Not really,” or “I’m not sure.” They say they want to help people and do good, but it's not about too much self-aggrandizement, like fame or public credit.
But they have it all wrong. Leadership has nothing to do with fame, though when you do great work people will want to celebrate you for it. Being a leader means you have a gift that you bring to the world. It usually starts with an idea, and when you bring it to life and choose to stay connected to it — even when others try to bring you down — you’re breaking the mold.
So, do you keep it to yourself or share it?
Maybe you’re not sure if the idea applies to anyone else. Maybe you invalidate it with something else you used to think. Suddenly, you’re completely doubting the idea you had in the first place, pushing it to the back of your mind, squashing any chance of it becoming a reality.
Or… you can take this idea — this spark — that is so special to you and your perspective and maybe turn it into a business that not only gives you pleasure seeing your vision come to life but also make lots of money. And what if — just what if — you really start to impact other people's lives for the better? Guess what — you're a leader, whether you like it or not.
Next time you get a good idea and have doubts about sharing it, ask yourself why you’re feeling this way. Are you really “not ready?” Because the world is.