What does it mean to be a leader?

Inspired by questions for writers for upcoming YWJ Issue:

 

Being a leader can be difficult to define.  One of my favorite examples of this is a theoretical situation:
A lady is with a group of people standing nearby her in an open field.  Due to dangerous reasons that only she is aware of, they all need to collectively move to a different physical location in a short period of time. She realizes she needs to lead others to safety.  Yet when she goes, they don’t come along with her.

Was she a leader?  She may have been right to want everyone else to join her, and they may have really needed to go where she went.  But they didn’t.  Technically, she was right and they were wrong. Yet, they didn’t follow.  She was forward thinking enough to realize a need that everyone else had. But was she a leader?

Her realization of danger that would impact the group was different from her ability to have actual influence.  Whatever the situation was that caused others to not move with her, the end result was that she didn’t have the ability to help them. Perhaps they were scared.  Perhaps she spoke too quietly and they couldn’t hear her.  Perhaps she jumped up and down and waved her arms, but those she was supposed to be leading were blind, so they couldn’t see what she wanted.  Perhaps she only attempted to communicate by speaking Mandarin, but those around her all spoke Russian.  Whatever the reason, she was not successful as a leader.  She lacked the ability to significantly influence change.

At the heart of leading is influence, which is the capacity or power to be a compelling force that produces effects on the actions, behavior, or even the opinions of others.  This can frequently happen through verbal and non-verbal communication.

I can think of a boy in my kindergarten class named Joshua, who was very good at leading, though the end result was frequently lost recess time for himself and our peers.  Was Joshua a leader?  Definitely.  Yet being a leader is not always a good thing.  Most people would agree that Adolf Hitler was an evil leader.  He was a master at influence.  Similarly, most people would agree that Winston Churchill was a wonderful leader.  He too, was a master at influence.

 

…out of time

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