What does it mean to be a leader? What do organizations, universities, public officials refer to when they aim to cultivate leadership skills? What traits and behaviors belong to a leader, and what sort of circumstances necessitate leadership?
The common belief:
A leader is someone who can effectively communicate in public. He or she must fluently participate in discussion employing proper argumentation while making effective use of PowerPoint or Keynote. Accordingly, they must be able to navigate complex social environments and adapt to their audience. Most importantly, they must be a dominant, outspoken, figure who is both an individual, and a powerful team player, readily influencing other members to follow their lead.
How grim. I suppose most people aren’t made for it, right? Wrong.
Certifying those who know
Simply put, those who enroll leadership courses, and explore extra curricular activities involving extensive social interactions, are more likely to–already–have the temperament and character necessary for “leadership.” Like No Child Left Behind, we’re fueling those already ahead.
This alienates everyone else who doesn’t fit the description. Yet, such leaders exist.
First, leadership comes in a box of chocolate. Not all leaders orbit extroversion and continual engagement. Inspiration exists in silent action and in written words. We find utter awe in isolation–in desolate regions where people spend their lives focusing on breathing and feeling, dissecting perception from sensation, and losing all sense of self.
These men and women are powerful, and focus on the essence. They uproot the inessential in favor of human happiness. There is no argumentation, and the lessons are offered freely to anyone willing to abandon the loud nature of the so called Leadership.
Soft-spoken dialect can disassemble rusty beliefs and apply oil to stagnant aspirations. It, too, can be the change.
Second, Universities should focus on critical thinking skills rather than mindless commanders who would draw a line in the dirt and call it a trail. A path is carved slowly, carefully; it takes time and perseverance. And it takes more than one person.
Critical thinking is what matters. Students who learn how to reason are more likely to act and lead. Leadership is not something one is. Leadership manifests when logic, reason, and passion combine into an urge so powerful that initiative is inevitable. A voice fired by genuine conviction will be heard, and will be followed. It may be verbal. It may be physical. It may be both. Either way, it would be magnetic.
So many students fail at critical thinking. At best, they leisurely figure out how to analyze one subject. Lessons are rarely generalized beyond the current enrollment. I often see the same students in other classes, and astounded by their absolute inability to critically contemplate new ideas. Like infants, they have to be spoon-fed and later regurgitate over finals. Smelly.
Undeniably, generalization can be difficult. It’s hard to see how the same principles used in Biology might also apply in Literature. But they do; it’s all about questioning, squinting your eyes and noticing inconsistencies, lack of evidence, incompetent argumentation, overreaching deductions and so fourth. I met with numerous professors to discuss my frustration with students’ inability outside of class, and often see the same reaction. A long pause, a smile, and some version of “I’m not sure.” So they stick to the old formula and later find the foamy yellow stains of paraphrasing.
How can anyone be a leader when they can’t think for themselves? How can they make decisions in real life when they can’t make up their minds about a piece of literature? Can anyone so detached, ever be a leader? These people flood social media with falsehoods, inciting viewers to challenge and protest against myth, while neglecting the real issues.
No one looks for citation. No one follows the source. No one looks at the data. It’s all fluffy feelings. What happened to evidence-based arguments?
In other words, leaders are everywhere. We’re busy cultivating weeds instead of fertilizing for produce. A waste of time.
Letting others lead
Third, our ‘leaders’ have forgotten the importance of following. Is there any organization focused on cultivating effective following skills? Is following obvious because so many do it? But wait, who are they following?
They follow the friend on Facebook. The meme. The “fake-news.” They chew on the sound-bites served daily by politicians. Sophisticated, well studied words, like gourmet for manipulation of public opinion. Later we ask ourselves how is it that so-and-so was elected? We furrow our eyebrows and massage our temples with every presidential campaign and political controversy.
Teach people the distinction between leadership and following, and to recognize when to do each.