The kids and I were listening to a U2 playlist in the car recently. When the live version of “Bad” was over, one of my eight-year-olds said, “I don’t get this song. What does he mean, ‘I’m wide awake, I’m wide awake?'”
I have heard this song no less than 1000 times since high school and I never considered these lyrics. I replied something like, “Well, I think it’s about a man who faces hard challenges and bad things going on. You know, you’re wide awake and deal with things instead of shutting your brain off and ignoring things that are too hard to deal with.”
My daughter seemed appeased. However, I actually had no idea what was the real meaning of that song, so I did some research.
I was close: It’s about a friend of the band that died from addiction during the ’80s recession in Dublin. The song is a cry out for that society to “see” this chronic problem of that time.
That said, something really struck me as I tried to explain this to my daughter: “I’m wide awake” is the hallmark being a great leader. In fact, maybe you could sum up the heart of leadership with that one lyric.
To understand this better, maybe it helps to ask how and why are we sleeping?
- We need paychecks
- We don’t know what to do
- We’re too busy
- We assume we can’t really affect change, the problem is too big, why bother?
- We really don’t want things to change
- We can’t face the truth
- We blame other people or circumstances for our problems
Really though, isn’t it just a lack of courage?
Also, leading isn’t something to become. Leading doesn’t have particular characteristics held by the precious few with inborn skills for others to strive for. Leading isn’t a model.
Leading is being wide awake, right where you are today. You can be wide awake in any meeting, in any position, with any family member or friend any moment of the day. Like the true goal of leadership, being wide awake makes things better for you and everyone around you.
I want to inspire people to be wide awake, always striving to lead in small and big ways to make things better. Being wide awake is a spark of hope, it inspires courage, leads to new ideas and solves problems others don’t want to deal with, thereby paving the way for opportunities.
Asleep? Well, you can guess: the opposite happens. Nothing changes and everyone is held back.
Leading — being wide awake — is fully living.
“At last you can see. You can leave behind the struggle to come to terms with what is in front of you, and move on.” — from “The Art of Possibility,” by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander