Every acorn is a potential oak. And if the right conditions of soil, water and sunshine are met, something as small and insignificant as an acorn will become a mighty oak tree. In a similar manner every human being is a potential leader – provided that the right conditions are met so that leadership qualities of courage, commitment and selfless service can grow.

Just as every oak can offer shade for the weary traveller, a branch for a bird’s nest or a beam for the farm barn, every human being has the potential to care for the Earth, serve the poor, liberate the oppressed and scale the heights of imagination and self-realisation.

The kind of leader we are concerned with in this issue of Resurgence is not a rare hero, not an ego-driven dictator, not a self-conscious superstar, not a self-centred celebrity or a power-manic manager, but a humble host to humanity – a servant of the Earth and an ever-vigilant conscience of the people. Such a ‘servant’ leader is as mindful of the process and purpose of life as she or he is aware of the goals; there is no conflict between the means and the ends here. In the work of such a leader there is complete harmony between what is to be done and how it is to be done.

True and effective leadership is more about inspiration, facilitation and right action than about outcome, achievements and unrealistic targets.

A real leader leads by example. Anyone who demands, “Do as I say and not as I do!” is not a good leader. Integrity between words and deeds is an essential quality of inspirational leadership. Mahatma Gandhi was once asked: “When you call upon people to do something, they follow you in their millions; what is the key to your successful leadership?”

Gandhi reputedly replied: “I have never asked anybody to do anything I have not tried and tested in my own life. We have to practise what we preach. In other words, we have to be the change we wish to see in the world.”

One living example is more effective than a million words; congruence between preaching and practice is a prerequisite for purposeful leadership.

We are all potential leaders, because we can all lead our own lives in the right direction.

We can show the world that a good life can be lived without exploitation, subjugation or domination of others, or of natural resources. We can show that a simple, wholesome and equitable life can be joyful and good. We can show that happiness doesn’t flow from material goods or the amount of money in our bank accounts: rather, happiness flows from the quality of the life we live, and the kind of relationships we have with our families, with our communities and with the natural world.

This is bottom-up leader-ship. We don’t have to wait for a messiah. Genuine leadership is not going to emerge from parliament or presidential palace. Leadership is not about legislation. The end of apartheid in South Africa, the establishment of civil rights in the USA, the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, the dismemberment of the Soviet empire, and many other such transformations occurred in the history of humanity because millions of people took action at grassroots level and refused to accept the unjust order of the day. The feminist movement and the environmental movement are examples of people taking personal responsibility to participate in the process of the great transformation necessary for a just, sustainable and resilient future for the Earth and her people.

True leadership is not about heroic headline-grabbing actions: true leadership is to live and act with integrity and without fear. Leadership has nothing to do with power, position or office; nor anything to do with birth, class or status. Leaders can emerge from anywhere: from the Royal Family, like Prince Charles, or from a Maasai community, like Emmanuel Manjura – both of whom are featured in this issue.

Leadership is an inner calling to lead ourselves and the world from subjugation to liberation, from falsehood to truth, from control to participation and from greed to gratitude.

We can all be leaders. All we have to do is wake up, stand up, live and act.

Satish Kumar is Editor-in-Chief, Resurgence magazine.