Recently I had the opportunity to deliver one of my favorite Jack Nicholson quotes before an audience at a charity event.
It was a fundraiser for the Mikva Challenge, which promotes civic engagement by youths. It is named after Abner Mikva, one of the nation’s leading politicians for decades and an influential figure at the top levels of all three branches of the federal government.
I have long admired the Mikva Challenge’s work in developing leadership skills in young people. It is an encouraging contribution to the future of America and the world.
This brings me to the Jack Nicholson quote.
No, it’s not “You can’t handle the truth” from A Few Good Men. Quite the contrary. I believe the truth, along with solidarity, is a guiding light for our actions.
My Nicholson quote was from As Good As It Gets, in which he plays a neurotic, acid-tongued man who falls in love with a diner waitress.
There is a critical moment in the film when Jack Nicholson tells the waitress, played by Helen Hunt: “You make me want to be a better man.”
Why did his character say this?
Because he was challenged by her. Because she was a clear and direct communicator. Because she was committed to being excellent at her job. Because she was a fierce advocate for her ailing son.
Because she made him feel better about himself.
She inspired him. She reflected the essence of leadership, which is conducting yourself in a way which inspires other people to be better.
Take a moment to think of the greatest leaders you know. I believe you will choose those who inspire you to be better, who empower you by showing you what is possible.
You’re not a leader because you may command an army. You’re not a leader because you might have a fancy title. You’re a leader because you inspire others to do their best, to be the best they can be.
It’s also likely the person you’re thinking of is an optimist who sees opportunities in every challenge.
Now, think about a time you felt the best about yourself. It almost certainly was when you did something for someone else.
Perhaps you achieved something so significant it inspired others to strive harder.