Sunday, November 18, 2012

For KP: What Makes a Leader

KP, one of my regulars here on Christian Fearing God-Man, suggested that I write about leadership.  So over the next couple of days, we're going to talk about leadership in personal terms and on the national and international stage.  What does it take for me, the common man, to be a leader?  What does it take for the President to be the leader of this nation.  What does it take to be a leader in the world arena?  Well, we're going to find out.

This topic is interesting to me because I was having a conversation with my father about my son that veered onto this idea.  My son is seven years old--in second grade.  At his parent-teacher conference, my son's teacher told my ex-wife and me that he demonstrates a level of maturity that is uncommon for a boy his age.  She said that he "has a dry sense of humor, which is sometimes bad because his sarcasm can be very cutting to the other children--because they don't understand."

My father laughed when I told him this, partially because he knows that my son is a carbon copy of me and my personality (Me?  Sarcastic?  Perish the thought!), but also because he knew what it potentially portends for his future.  "You know what he'll be, don't you son," he asked me.

"Yes" I replied, "he's going to be a leader."  It is in my son's nature to be independent, to be strong willed.  He enjoys being in charge of a situation, and he loves being the rule-maker.  Sometimes, he even displays a flash of vision: occasionally he is able to imagine an end goal, and he can lead little people to realize that goal.  He's a neat little guy.

Those are some of the good qualities of being a leader.  You have to be independent, self-reliant.  A good leader knows when he can't do something himself, but a great leader always tries to do it himself first as long as failure will not cause catastrophic harm.  Too often we see leaders who have no inkling on the particulars of a task ordering others around and placing unrealistic expectations on their followers.  That's not to say that you have to be intimately familiar with every single detail of a particular function, but you should at least familiarize yourself.

A strong will is essential, because failure is always just one poor decision away.  One thing I've noticed about humans is that many if not most lose heart fairly quickly when faced with failure.  It's not difficult to demoralize someone into resignation, and we are more prone to quit when we feel like the circumstances are out of our control.  The leader helps his people overcome that feeling of hopelessness.  The leader inspires his people to press on, failure after painful failure.  However, a good leader knows when to call it quits and how to motivate his people to learn from the failure and move on.

None of that means a hill of beans without vision.  This will be the hardest thing to teach my son, because vision can only be achieved through creativity.  Although you can foster creativity, you can't really teach it.  Anyone can be creative, but the thing that separates a visionary from a dreamer is practical application.  It's not enough to see the end-goal, but you have to know how to get there.

My friend, the Anonymous Howard Beale as I like to call him here, is a visionary.  He's a man who can not only see the final product before he's even begun the project, but he figures out all of the steps necessary to achieve victory.  What's more, he is able to paint that picture to others, and he can inspire them to help him realize his vision.  It takes a clarity of mind which is easiest achieved through logical, analytical thinking.  A good leader must be willing to hammer out the details if he ever hopes to succeed.

I've noticed some negative qualities in my son, the sort of pitfalls, if you will, that come from being a leader.  My son finds himself wanting to control people so that he can achieve his own personal goals.  He wants them to play his games, and to follow his rules.  He is usually very unwilling to compromise, which is something I work on with him.

There is a point where someone ceases to be a leader and instead has found himself to be a manipulator.  It's alright to inspire people to realize your personal vision, but what separates a leader from a manipulator is mutual benefit.  Working towards your vision has to be rewarding for everyone involved, or else you're simply treating your fellow humans as disposable resources.

So what does it take to be a leader?  Three things: Vision, charisma, and drive.  In the next article, we'll talk about how these things apply to the office of President of the United States and how Obama stacks up against other historical examples.


Silverfiddle said...

"My son finds himself wanting to control people so that he can achieve his own personal goals. He wants them to play his games, and to follow his rules. He is usually very unwilling to compromise, which is something I work on with him."

I wouldn't worry about that. It's actually normal at his age, but I agree with you that I would try to steer him to higher aspirations, and from the sound of it, I'm sure he'll get there.

Jack Camwell said...

Oh I'm not worried. It's a natural part of child development.

Isn't it interesting, though, that there are many people who don't get past that stage?

I call them "politicians."


FreeThinke said...

When you fail to grow out of it, the condition is called Megalomania.

Untreated, unconverted megalomaniacs not subject to incarceration can become a grave danger to society.

I would venture to say that ALL the great villains in history were in fact megalomaniacs.

A long as you don't play into his fantasies of omnipotence, your son should be all right.

God bless, the child!

~ FT

Jersey McJones said...

Unfortunately, one common personality trait among "great" leaders is psychopathy (NO INSINUATION INTENDED!). There was a fascinating article in October's SCIAM by Kevin Dutton on the subject that I highly recommend reading.


KP said...

We are all leaders or mentors to someone. It may be in the course of parenting; or as a friend, a teacher, a coach, a co-worker or healthcare provider. At times you may not even know you are leading.

It is some of the most important work we can ever do; more important that money and more important than winning. Why? Because it lasts and if done successfully it is extremely rewarding for all parties. Being mentored is not necessarily found in rigid programming. It occurs when opportunity presents itself and is often done by someone who cares about your welfare, although it may not feel like it at the time.

It turns out we can be most helpful to others in areas where we have struggled mightily and prevailed. Those special circumstances are part of the reward of having overcome the difficulties we all experience. Seems to me we are put here on earth to be challenged. How we handle those challenges is part of our character and ensures we can assist others do the same.

NFL Super Bowl winning coach Tony Dungy said “Success is measured in changed lives, strong character and eternal values rather than in material gain, temporal achievement or status.”

@JMJ By Dutton saying some personality traits and thinking styles of psychopaths are also hallmarks of successful surgeons, politicians and military leaders; he could be saying that if you are going to find something positive to say about a psychopath it is that they have thought patterns similar to surgeons, politicians and military leaders. That stops short of saying great leaders or mentors are psychopaths. In fact, somebody who tries to lead for wrong reasons, or for power, is no leader at all. He is a con man.
And I wouldn't call surgeons leaders. They do their best work over unconcious patients and often have notoriously poor bedside manner.

KP said...

I have enjoyed reading your comments, Jack. One more thing I would add that describes a leader:

He or she finds a way to present himself so that others (even those who do not totally agree with him) find themselves not wanting to be a dissappoint to him. People want to please a leader who is fair and consistent. You don't have to love a leader but you do need to respect him.