So I’m taking an SLA class this semester (Student Leadership Academy). The big overarching question that comes up inevitably in every class and in each discussion therein is this:
“What exactly is/makes a leader?”
And here are the answers that are inevitably thrown out in each class and in each discussion therein:
A good listener
A good communicator
You get the overused, overstated, oversimplified, overgeneralized idea. What’s worse, everyone is carrying around articles, scholarly and otherwise, in their brand new, college-provided, leather, SLA portfolios that say those things and list those same traits. The evidence is incontrovertible, right?
Yeah, I don’t see it.
I’ve known a lot of people who fit that bill who couldn’t head up an expedition to the laundromat. Similarly, I’ve known a hell of a lot of people who couldn’t come within a javelin rocket’s range of being “honest, down-to-earth, trustworthy,” who could organize four disabled hamsters into a congressional joint subcommittee capable of solving the healthcare crisis.
So I got to thinking. You know, those noble characteristics are all pretty vague in the wash, so let’s investigate a little. So here are some top google results for a few searches (if you’d like the conclusion without the research, skip past the links and I’ll summarize):
So if you looked through those just now, you saw that remarkably every single one of those is the same person. A friendly retired military man or woman now working as a mid-level managerial trainer who enjoys authoritative responsibilities at work and has kids at home. Really, with only minor semantic differences, every one of those descriptions was the same.
So really, we have no clue what makes a leader a leader. If Joe Shmoe submitted that there is a genetic leader gene in the good ole AGCT double helix, we wouldn’t have a suicidal lemming’s better idea to suggest.
Or maybe, the simple truth is that there really is no difference between a good leader and a good person, and that the only prerequisite for leadership is that said aspiring leader be an independent, self-aware, generally capable and developed human being.
You know what, let’s follow that line of reasoning for a while. Let’s assume that the truth is that you only need to be a well-developed human to be a leader. That, coupled with the reality that there are very few genuine leaders out there compared to how many there are not, has an interesting implication. It implies that there are very few independent, self-aware, generally capable, developed human beings.
Oh, Greg, be careful. You’ve stopped thinking and started meddling now.
So I have. Which all leads me to my point – a short one, which I’ll make quickly.
I think the true measure of a leader has nothing to do with characteristics and everything to do with behavior. Furthermore, I would submit that the most noble and profitable behavior for a leader and for everyone s/he leads is to make him/herself obsolete. By that, I mean that a leader (remember that our working definition of that term is an independent, self-aware, generally capable, developed human being) should work to produce more leaders (more independent, self-aware, generally capable, developed human beings). That simple. Everyone profits. The leader’s responsibilities are permanently fulfilled, the followers are bettered and never need be lead again, no one ends up dependent on anyone else, and everyone moves toward being equals.