5 leadership lessons that singer Elton John learned from his ‘darkest hours’

Elton John performs at Palais Omnisports de Bercy on November 19, 2014 in Paris, France
David Wolff - Patrick | Redferns | Getty Images

It's safe to say that Elton John has excelled in life. Yet even with his award-winning music career and success at raising global awareness about HIV/AIDS, John admits he's had his highs and lows career-wise.

"There is never a straight line to success and there wasn't for me," the singer stated in an opinion piece recently published on the World Economic Forum's (WEF) website.

Next week, he will be honored for his leadership in the fight against HIV/AIDS at WEF Summit's 2018 Crystal Awards in Davos, Switzerland. In light of this, John has taken to WEF's website to extend some words of wisdom on the challenges he's faced during his career.

Here are five leadership lessons that Elton John has learned from his "darkest hours."

Lesson 1: Discover and follow your passions

For the five-time Grammy winner, John discovered his passion for music at the age of three. Even though John ended up having a career that's spanned five decades to date, obstacles did arise.

According to John, his father considered a music career as "an outrageous, unacceptable thing" to pursue — however, that didn't stop him from following his dreams.

"I stuck at it and I found that I loved it. It offered joy and material abundance beyond my wildest dreams."

Elton John performs at the Andrea Bocelli show
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Lesson 2: Have moral integrity that survives triumph and failure

With success often comes fame, and while many may see this as rewarding, others see fame as a curse.

Enter lesson number two: "A good leader has a moral integrity that survives both success and failure" — a lesson John admits he learned the hard way.

"My essential humanity began to dissolve into an excess of drugs and alcohol. Fame, which at first sight looks like a blessing, soon revealed itself as also a curse. I am afraid I reacted very badly."

John has been open about his troubles in the past, explaining in his book "Love Is the Cure" how he took cocaine during the 1980s. Even in the darkest of times, however, John notes it's possible to change.

Lesson 3: The future is 'always in your hands'

At his "lowest point", the singer met Ryan White and his mother Jeanne. Ryan had been diagnosed with AIDS at the age of 13, having contracted the virus through a blood transfusion.

Ryan and his mother, however, fought for his right to return to school, while pushing back against AIDS-related discrimination. Ryan's story garnered national attention, with the news leading to the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act being passed by Congress in 1990, just months after Ryan died.

"I was entirely humbled as I watched Ryan and Jeanne battle stigma, discrimination and hatred with the most total grace. Their ability to cope with real adversity helped inspire me to turn my own life around," John wrote, describing Ryan as "the spark" that helped him kick his addictions — leading him to launch the Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF).

Lesson 4: Acknowledging common humanity

Elton John AIDS Foundation commemorates its 25th year and honors founder Sir Elton John during New York fall gala
Theo Wargo | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

The global discussion and awareness on HIV/AIDS has transformed dramatically since EJAF was founded in 1992, with more people having access to support today.

"There is nothing more profound, nothing more powerful than a recognition of common humanity," John said, describing how society developed from turning a blind eye, to becoming more supportive, expressing it as a "process of healing."

EJAF has raised over $400 million to challenge discrimination and provide support to many HIV/AIDS programs, yet John notes that these services remain under threat.

Lesson 5: Hope can be answered and progress can triumph

HIV remains a huge public health issue, with 1 million HIV-related deaths in 2016 alone, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). While over 36.5 million people were recorded as living with HIV at the end of 2016, only 54 percent of adults and 43 percent of children affected currently have lifelong access to antiretroviral therapy, WHO said.

John underlined these statistics in the op-ed, explaining how services are currently at risk, while injustice and violence still affects several communities. Looking back at concerts and activism movements, he remains hopeful, however, recounting how group effort from different communities has helped combat stigma and misinformation.

"That process of bonding begins with the embrace of our common humanity. There is no greater lesson," he said.

Read Elton John's entire opinion piece on the World Economic Forum's website.

Elton John steps up fight against HIV/AIDS
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