Leadership and Leaders – what is it? , and who are they?
Three key qualities ot outstanding leadership are consistency, competence and trustworthiness. The latter is the key stone.
Leadership and Leaders – what is it? , and who are they? - Abstract
There are good and bad leaders. We need to know the difference. Good leadership is not about accruing personal power. The good leader will have vision that seeks to unite for the sake of the common good. And, everyone has the ability to lead. This is not left for the elite few. It recognizes that material and financial success is superficial, that humans have a higher purpose. Three key qualities ot outstanding leadership are consistency, competence and trustworthiness. The latter is the key stone.
Leadership and Leaders – what is it? , and who are they?
What is leadership? And who are our true leaders? These appear, on the surface, to be simple questions. But to even begin to answer them it is necessary to say almost as much about what both are not, as about what and who they really are.
Leaders, for instance, can inspire others to be good, or bad. A bad leader is one who has most of, perhaps almost all, the qualities of true leadership. But his or her leadership is destructive: of their followers, of other people, even of themselves. Infamous examples are Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot. That is because, charismatic though they were, these men led themselves and others to become monsters. Hitler had this to say about leadership: “The efficiency of the truly national leader, consists primarily in preventing the division of the attention of a people, and always in concentrating it on a single enemy.” In other words, you can only unite ‘efficiently’ against something, never for something.
But surely, true leadership is a response to the human need to achieve something positive, something that enobles both leader and follower. A true leader is the person who envisions what that will be, and who brings people together to achieve it. “Where there is no vision, the people perish,” the Book of Proverbs says. We all need to set our sights on a goal, some ideal, and to strive for it. It may be a great vision, like a world safe for children, or a more humble one like cleaning up the pollution in our local river. But unless we have something to look for, to strive for, something that is beyond ourselves, we lose our true humanity. A leader is one who can capture a vision, an ideal, who can share it with others, and who has the enthusiasm and the determination to see it realised. Where one such person goes, others will follow.
A true leader, someone whose name will be remembered with honour, is never aiming to achieve wholly earthbound goals. To lead, leaders have to be practical — not so heavenly-minded as to be of no earthly use, as someone once put it — they do have to actually get things done in the world. That truth acknowledged, however, neither is it ever inspirational to focus solely upon short term and wholly-private advantage, particularly if rules, legal or ethical, have to be broken to achieve that end. Examples would be winning a sporting contest by cheating, or lifting quarterly financial results through ‘creative’ accounting. It’s working together towards something uplifting that requires true leadership.
There are many widely-held beliefs about leadership that are mistaken when examined closely. Leadership is not, for instance, the role for an elite few. Leaders are needed at ‘the top’, of course. Yet leadership is actually a personal quality, an individual capacity, something possessed to some degree by everyone. Everyone has the ability to lead; everyone does takes the lead on some subjects or actions. Similarly, everyone has the ability to recognise, and to heed, a good idea or a sensible person. All sensible individuals, therefore, are followers for some of their time.
Very often, leadership is seen as being the ability to command, to dictate. Rather, it is the ability to enlist support. Nor is true leadership a quality exercised to create personal power; something employed for self-aggrandisement. If you hold that leadership is a virtue, a facet of character to be striven towards, how can you hope to be taken seriously when you also claim that it is a quality whose purpose is to feed the age-old vices of pride and vanity? Even though the proud and the vain may become influential, a true leader remains committed to service to others, not just to the advancement of her- or himself. By definition, there is no such person as a solitary, self-involved, solely self-serving leader.
Unfortunately, of course, these thoughts about what leadership is, and is not, may sound old-fashioned. The up-to-date view of ‘life, the universe and everything’ was expressed in a popular song a few years ago: that we live in a material world, and not a social, an ethical, or a spiritual one. Therefore, the logic of the modern, or post-modern, view has it that we humans are no more than dust; and unto dust, only dust, and nothing but dust, shall we return.
All basic assumptions require scrutiny, and the ‘material world’ view is no exception. So what sort of a world are we living in? Is it a material world where the ultimate objective is to earn more money than the next person; to drive the most expensive brand of car; to go to the most fashionable restaurants; to take exclusive holidays? Are we, truly, just what we eat? What we own? Are we merely who people think we are? Is image what really matters?
Surely, the answer has to be that, while doing and owning fashionable things may be nice, and that while there’s nothing wrong with either, people who pursue nothing other than these material goals in life, become desiccated. They also wither those around them.
No-one can become or remain a happy person, pursuing only things, objects, or adulation in life. Humans have a higher purpose, so that whenever we suppress our better instincts in favour of self-involvement and self-indulgence, we suffer for it. The golden rule is also an iron rule.
Enlightened vision is what all true leaders must possess. The capacity to foresee, to imagine, to describe what is desirable, is what defines all leaders, and how we may measure them, wherever and whenever and whoever they are. Their visions are pictures of what might better be. When leaders or followers settle for less, they remain mired in place, or move only to their destruction; to where “the people perish.” True leaders, on the other hand, have three outstanding qualities.
The first is purpose. Leaders know the direction in which to go, and they keep going until they get there. This involves planning, setting shorter-term objectives on the way to longer-term goals, anticipating problems, keeping a cool head when things go wrong, having courage when that’s needed.
The second characteristic of leadership is competence. This doesn’t necessarily mean the leader has to be able to solve every problem personally, but at least he or she will have someone at hand who can. In other words, a leader needs to be ready to delegate.
The third and greatest quality is trustworthiness. A true leader is someone who can be trusted to be worth listening to, whose advice is trustworthy, because that person will look out for Number Two, Number Three and Number Four, as well as for Number One. Trustworthiness is much the rarest quality of the three.
It is also the one that is most often overlooked or ignored. Perhaps because trustworthiness is an aspect of character, discussing it, talking about the virtue, falls into the same category as talk of God and religion: something that’s become embarrassing to talk about in public; almost gauche, or impolite, or ‘inappropriate.’
People talk about skills and higher education as being the necessary qualities, these days, for individuals and countries to prosper. But trustworthiness is much more important — trustworthiness is what really qualifies people to make an effective contribution to public life, to professional life, to business life, to life in whatever community you live.
There are many, many aspects to this. Trustworthiness comes from honesty and reliability. It comes from leading from the front, not the rear. “Do as I say, not as I do,” will not create it. It comes from understanding the needs of others; from sharing triumphs and disappointments; from learning how to stay a little apart, but yet not aloof; from being loyal and fair; from a little humility and much good humour.
In the end, however, there can be no all-inclusive definition of either “leadership,” or “leaders.” No matter how thoroughly you go into the topic, there is always something more that might usefully be said. Yet as Pubilius Syrus wrote in the 1st century BC: “Any one can hold the helm when the sea is calm.” The test of a leader, then, a helmsman or woman, is to be able to steer when the ocean is rough. Given that we live in an era when social, scientific and technological change is accelerating bewilderingly, the world surely requires that the people doing the steering have some sort of a behavioural compass, deep inside them, that never points their ship, with its passengers, into danger.
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