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Immortal Leadership: 5 Things We Can Learn from Tupac

Once upon a time [pre-Coronavirus], I traveled to Los Angeles where I was struck by the prevalence and careful preservation of the memory of Tupac Shakur. 

Tupac’s face was everywhere from t-shirts, to graffiti, to random art being sold at the beach. His music could be heard blaring from passing cars and stores as if it were still in its heyday.

Tupac left us almost 25 years ago. But as is evident by what I saw on the “west side,” his leadership still reigns supreme in his industry.

Today would have been Tupac Shakur’s 49th birthday. In honour of his legacy, here are the top 5 elements for leadership success as exhibited by Tupac:

5. Pushing boundaries. It is said that “thought leaders push boundaries; they change ideas or methods of a particular industry and they thrive in executing these unconventional business approaches.” Tupac brought uncomfortable realities to the public stage – he challenged people’s ideas and stimulated intellectualism. Through his brave lyrics, Tupac became one of the first major socially conscious rappers from the West Coast. This cemented him as someone people could believe in. Someone to rally behind. A true thought leader.

4. Charisma. If you examine history’s most effective leaders, you will be hard pressed to find one without some sort of charisma. Tupac’s charisma appealed to many and this made him more effective at spreading his influence. Effective leaders are empathetic – they have the ability to make others feel like they are truly understood; they “walk the talk” and get their hands dirty. In Tupac’s case, he kept it real by staying connected to the “hood” even after he made it big – being seen as “real” goes a long way in leadership as frauds are easily detected and rejected. Tupac’s authenticity showed commitment to the cause and beliefs he was imparting; it motivated others to take interest and inspired them to take notable action. To this day, people quote his work and he has inspired a whole new breed of artists to become successful.

Every rapper who grew up in the Nineties owes something to Tupac. He didn’t sound like anyone who came before him.

-50 Cent

3. Adaptability. No one wants to follow a leader who never changes. Not only is that boring, it becomes tacky and irrelevant. Unfortunately, not-evolving is the undoing of many aspiring leaders. Tupac was highly transformational (as is evident by the various themes within his work – think “Hail Mary” vs. “California Love”). Tupac was able to consistently identify with his public. More importantly, he was able to realize his own faults and learn from them/use them to grow. In psychology, this leadership quality is identified as Individualized Consideration. That is, “being responsive to the feelings and developmental needs of followers.”

[Shakur] spoke with brilliance and insight as someone who bears witness to the pain of those who would never have his platform. He told the truth, even as he struggled with the fragments of his identity.

– Holler If You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur (M. Dyson)

2. Integrity. This means upholding togetherness and solidarity of the community being led. From early on, Tupac respected respect and placed a heavy emphasis on honesty – even when it was uneasy. Great leaders are upfront and people trust them. Tupac consistently made people feel like he would go to bat for them in the form of action: he used his platform (fame) to bring injustices to the public stage. His deeds (like other successful leaders) matched his words and this in turn, yielded trust – which is crucial to success as a leader. If someone doesn’t have integrity, he/she cannot lead; after all, who would follow someone they couldn’t trust?

1. Bravery. Perhaps the most all-encompassing quality of a good leader is being brave. Tupac was rambunctious, and unafraid to speak out on unpopular topics. He boldly took risks with his music, his image, and his decisions. And people couldn’t help but respect that (whether they liked him, or not). His unapologetic, and infectious attitude deemed him a “leader of men” – one people could trust to lead them through adversity. One to be their rock. One to get them through sadness. And one to motivate them to be better and achieve happiness. That’s what leadership is all about: being brave enough to inspire others, no matter what the circumstances.

Some may argue on the order of importance of these traits, but all in all, they represent the qualities of a whole leader.

Leaders come and go, but the great ones are never forgotten – the ones who admit their mistakes, the ones who learn and adapt, the ones you can trust, the ones who inspire, and the ones who lead fearlessly. Tupac was one such leader and the measure of his influence is still evident well beyond the LA scene (where I initially got the idea for this article).

[Tupac is an] international martyr, a symbol on the level of Bob Marley or Che Guevara

– Vinyl Ain’t Final: Hip Hop and the Globalization of Black Popular Culture, Dipannita Basu & Sidney J. Lemelle, Pluto

Which traits do you think are vital to being a successful leader?

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