Leadership. It is something we, as a people, deem to be very important. It is part of our narrative as Americans, and as individualists. Something we believe contributes to success in life, and therefore, something we hope our children will develop.
But when we talk about leadership, what do we really mean? After all, a leader is just “a person who leads,” according to the basic definition in Webster’s. There isn’t necessarily any moral or ethical attachment to the word. By definition, leaders have followers, and therefore, power. The question is, how do they wield it? I’m sure we can all think of plenty of examples from history of powerful leaders with many, many followers, who were terrible human beings.
So what is it that we are actually talking about? When we talk about leadership often what we are really thinking of is character. We are thinking of the attributes that distinguish and define the individual, the attributes we wish all leaders possessed, and when it comes to our children, the qualities we hope they will come to embody and value.
And what are these attributes? What makes a leader of good character? We need only to look to the icons people have created throughout the ages, our favorite heroes of story and legend, of comic books and movies, of Super Heroes and Jedi Knights. Over and over, we seek these examples of the heroic ideal. They are people who balance power and responsibility. They are strong, yet kind, resourceful and farsighted, willing to take charge, yet humble, honest and shining with integrity.
Ultimately, they are followed because they are trustworthy. They use power, yes, but for good. They are motivating, uplifting and worthy of respect, as opposed to demanding a show of respect through the use of fear. Whether mythical or real-life, leaders of good character radiate a different kind of power, making the world brighter by their example, drawing others out of darkness and toward light.
There are many ways to be heroic. To be a leader. Not everyone is born to put on the proverbial cape and lead the charge. What is essential is knowing who you are and what you stand for. When we think of our children becoming leaders, what we are hoping for them is that they will be the kind of people who are confident in themselves, that they are motivated by strong positive values, and that they are secure enough to keep from seeking approval by copying what everyone else is doing. In short, that they know what they stand for and think for themselves.
As adults, we understand that opportunity seeks many qualities to bestow itself upon: talent and drive, yes, but also good character and trustworthiness. If one is known to have good character and all the attributes that title implies, it is an automatic short cut. Our reputation precedes us and affects the opportunities we will be offered, the people we will attract, and consequently, our level of success in life.
Ultimately it is the way we conduct ourselves and the manner in which we treat others that show what kind of people we are. Whether we are the type to seek the spotlight or watch from the sidelines, so long as our character is strong we are leading by our example.
Some like to know they are in charge. Some don’t. But to be someone others look up to for the kind of person you are, that is power. And whether by intention or happenstance, others may be inspired by us, may learn from us, may become better just by knowing us. Strength of character can make leaders of us all. •GMS