Rapper Common’s Four Ways to Lead with Love

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In a speech peppered with rap and inspirational quotes, Academy and Grammy-award winner Common admitted that he’s often asked why he doesn’t go into politics. Facing a room of more than 2,000 local elected officials, his answer: I’ll leave that to you guys.

Common congratulated the local leaders for their service and offered a map to encourage them to lead with love. He offered four recommendations to do so.

1: Promote service – Quoting Muhammad Ali, Common reminded local leaders in the audience that “service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” As municipal leaders, service is what you do.

His birth name, Rashid, means child of love. Or at least, that’s what his father told him. He found out at 13 that his name didn’t actually mean love; but that didn’t stop him. “I wanted to give love. I loved how love felt.” In these times of chaos, it’s time for us to go deeper and lead with love. We need to lead with love and compassion.

2: Advocate with courage – It’s easy to represent the individuals in your community who support you. The question is: Where do you stand with those who disagree with you?

“So many people out there know the right thing to do,” Common said during his speech. “But they won’t because of the power, the position they want to hold.” And as he aptly pointed out, city officials aren’t expected to sit down with the gang bangers or members of the LGBTQ community.

Yet how we treat those looked down upon shows the true character of a person, a country or city. He considers being in a position of leadership a blessing. He recalled a time when he told fellow community members that they should extend their hands in love and got a lot of backlash.

“I didn’t say we should accept police shootings; we need to find a way with love to change this.” Promoting service can be hard. True leadership means doing that hard work and pushing others to do the same. For his part, Common has worked closely with the prison community, and helped to get a bill passed in California that would end youth sentences of life without parole.

To him, this was leading with love.

3: Remember self-care – There’s no activism without self-activism.

Admittedly, self-care has become a trendy topic. And usually, when we think about it, we conjure images of candles and face masks.

However, self-care is crucial in serving others. Whether through meditation, therapy or other channels, everyone needs a way to recharge and reflect. “I’m still a work in progress,” Common told the audience. But tools like therapy and meditation helped him mend a rift with his daughter, and ultimately serve more effectively.

And alternatively, service can act as self-care.

“I believe service is a form of self-love,” he said. “It’s transformative in your heart. It changes the way you see the world.”

4: Know your purpose – Common, quoting the movie Selma, asked the audience: “What are you willing to die for?”

“Live for that.”

Every leader should know what their purpose is. Quoting a column by the New York Times’ David Brooks, Common highlighted two kinds of virtues: Resume virtues — what you need to build a successful career — and eulogy virtues — what you’ll be remembered for.

It was clear that he advocated for the latter.

Common impressed upon the audience that anyone can lead, and anyone can serve. Whether your path leads you to be an activist, an artist, a politician, or anything else, don’t forget to lead with love.

“I want to thank you,” he said, “For being daring enough to seek out truth, and for being the leaders who are leading with love.”