FMBR Editorial: March, 1997
What is the quality of leadership? What makes one person a leader, another not? Part is the ability to command attention by his or her mere presence - what is meant by "charisma." Part also is the willingness to lead and to take the risks of leadership. If the leader takes his followers into a blind alley or worse, it is he (or she) who takes the blame. Perhaps most importantly, it is also the ability to articulate the goal to be sought, and usually the ideal giving value to that goal. A person who gives voice to the formless hopes and dreams of others can command their deepest loyalty.
There are two aspects of this partial definition that I find of particular interest. First, it says nothing about being responsible. A would-be leader must accept the risks but this does not mean he or she must look on them with an unbiased eye. They may not even be acknowledged. It is too easy to shrug off risks as remote, irrelevant to the goal or simply ignorable in reference to what is seen as the importance of the goal. "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead." It has even been argued that a certain degree of tunnel vision is a prerequisite for leadership. I doubt this is true but it is clear that many leaders of history such as Hitler, have been monomaniacal in their convictions and drive.
The other aspect of interest is what seems to be the current absence of global leaders. I wonder why this is and what it means about the current state of the world. There are local leaders, individuals commanding substantial followings for their particular causes. Among these causes are religious and cultish movements, issues of national and cultural identity, and various political themes. But where are the world-class leaders able to set the tone of the era? Is it that there is nobody with all the qualifications, or is it rather that the world is not ready or able to accept such a leader?
I suspect the cause is in the world. If so, this implies much. Since a major role of the leader is to articulate previously unexpressed goals and values, there may simply be insufficient commonality among the inner convictions of people in general. Specific groups can find common aims in their religious beliefs, in their political, national or cultural aspirations, whatever. Some of these groups are indeed passionate in their dedication. But perhaps their passion is too closely identified with the words with which they name their group and not the reality. Perhaps, in the certainty of their language, they foreclose the possibility of finding a common purpose with others.
If this is so, and given that the world faces desperate problems, then we cannot expect a leader to arise who will hand us the answers we so badly need. It says each of us, acting within ourselves, must find our own answers and make them work for us and those near us. It puts the responsibility inescapably in our own selves. In part this means we must recognize an equal responsibility in others. We must not only tolerate the differing convictions of those others, we must also accept the possibility that their views may hold part of the truth and our own part of the error.
Some, perhaps many, will fail this challenge. They will continue to seek someone to tell them their beliefs and to give them a banner to follow. They will continue as they have, and so are likely to further enforce the fragmentation of humanity. But there will be some, hopefully many, who will rise to the challenge. In the latter group lies the hope for mankind.