What is a leader?

When I was younger, I had an image in my head of what it meant to be a great leader. I envisioned John Wayne in one of his classic western movies, boldly taking up center stage on my television screen. He was loud and determined, decisive in his decision-making, and had an all-business demeanor.

If it wasn’t Wayne, then it was great leaders in history, strong military men like Alexander the Great and Napoleon; George Washington and the rest of the Founding Fathers; and General George S. Patton leading the Third Army deep into Nazi Germany. Patton for one was a no-nonsense, hard-driving character. He was a brilliant thinker and willed his men and himself to victory. You knew not to mess with him.  

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I still respect some of my early heroes, but I find that age has changed me. I see now that leaders come in different shapes and size. They’re not always the strong white guy. They could be anyone. They could be the quiet guy in the corner or the woman leader encouraging her team across the finish line. I understand too that life isn’t always black and white. In fact, most times it’s a series of grays.

For instance, I ask myself about key leadership traits:

–Loud? Why is “loud” necessary? Can’t you accomplish more with a few direct comments at the precise right time? Sometimes, in fact, the best leader is one who spends most of their time listening, so when they do speak or even whisper for that matter, they have everyone’s attention. Coach John Wooden and Mike Krzyzewski, two of the winningest basketball coaches in NCAA history were were never the loudest coaches. They were meticulous in their craft and were the best at positioning their players for success.

–Determined? Okay that makes sense, but who decides if someone is more determined than another leader?

–Decisive? Yes, decisiveness is critical, but I find that most times we need to make decisions on what we know at the time. We may not have all the answers, that’s the just way it goes. We have to be resilient and flexible and work with what we have.

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On second thought

My image of a leader feels more muddied now. For example, I’ve seen that sometimes the best leaders aren’t the ones who blather the most and are self important, but instead, listen to those around him or her.

Bluster doesn’t make a good leader. 

I’ve been keeping track of traits that maybe didn’t mean all that much to me then, that mean a lot now. Here’s some of what I respect more now:

–Authenticity & Selflessness. I respect leaders now who are willing to be vulnerable, have integrity, show empathy and care about their troops.

–Perseverance. Leaders who are confident and believe in their teams will go a long way.

–Willingness to listen. Anybody can be a leader, it takes some special to be a leader that everyone else can get behind.

–Trust. Team members need to feel that their leader communicates with them frequently, is transparent with information, listens to them and has their best interests at heart.

Great leaders treat their leaders with respect, gaining respect in return. Yes, give me servant leader, who listens to his or her team, anytime over a selfish leader out for themselves.

17 thoughts on “What is a leader?

Add yours

  1. Lovely post, Brian. I hear you…some “leaders” – especially those portrayed in cinema – can be mostly ‘muscle’ — pushy, powerful, over-the-top personalities. I’m with you…I like the subtle quietness of leaders who still get the job done…but with more finesse, less bravado. These two thoughts stand out to me:
    “Bluster doesn’t make a good leader” and “Team members need to feel that their leader communicates with them frequently, is transparent with information, listens to them and has their best interests at heart.”
    Servant leaders for the win! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, love a great servant leader, will run through brick walls for that kind of leader. Sadly many leaders miss that idea. They forget too that culture plays a big role in an organization. If I see you reinvesting in the organization and people during the tough times, I’m much more likely to stay when the recruiters and headhunters come to my door. Thanks for your great comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post. I’m going to tell you a little trivia about Patton. My father during WWII was in Sicily. My dad had his men dig Fox holes and they all finished and got into them to await for the oncoming enemy. However, He said General Patton came riding by shortly thereafter, in a Jeep and didn’t want to go around a half mile, so he instructed my father to tell his men to fill up the Fox holes so he could drive over them and then to redig them. My dad told him his men were exhausted and was concerned that they wouldn’t be finished in time for when the enemy arrived. Patton swore at him and told him he didn’t give a damn about his men. Well, as a soldier he had to listen to his superior, so Patton waited while they filled in the Fox holes and then rode over them without even a thank you. When the movie about Patton came out in the 70’s my father told me he hated the guy. Said he was an arrogant man with little regard for the men in the field. It was the first time I ever heard my dad say something mean about anyone. I asked him about Eisenhower. He said he was an extremely nice man and an outstanding general. He told me he voted for him the first time because he liked him as a human being and because he was an excellent general. However,he said he didn’t vote for him the second time for President because as brilliant a general as he was, he felt he was not an effective President. That it was not his expertise.
    So my take on that was interesting. My father was a brilliant man ( in Mensa) and a quiet man. He thought Patton was a selfish son of a gun and Eisenhower was a kind soldier who truly cared about the men in the military, but was an ineffective President. I was young or I would have asked him more questions. But that was my father’s take a on leadership. BTW, my dad was a decorated military hero. I didn’t discover his many medals of honor, including a Purple Heart,(because he didn’t brag) until after he died. You can come to your own conclusions. But to this day when I hear Patton’s name I think of Patton as a real jerk. Lol

    Liked by 2 people

    1. What an interesting story Lesley. I tend to agree with your father’s assessment. I read stories over the years that describe Patton in not see so flattering terms. Im not talking about his meanness, but more how selfish he really was. There’s always more to the story. A credit to your father. Love how he stood up for his men back in a time when that might not have been as much of a consideration. Sounds like your father was an amazing man. Thanks so much for sharing!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanks for responding Brian and for your kind comments about my dad. I tried to post his photo in uniform but it didn’t work. Nevertheless Lieutenant Ben Kluchin was indeed a hero in my eyes. My oldest son carries his grandfather’s dog tags with him daily on his key chain and now my grandson is named after my dad. So hopefully his legacy of will continue.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. What a great conclusion – servant leaders over selfish leaders. Yes! I love your list of leadership qualities and how you walk us away from the black/white of youth to the softer/grayer areas of maturity. There are so many ideas that need to be modified once we gain some wisdom and you have done a beautiful job of tackling leadership, Brian!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Great post and conversation through the comments. I agree leadership qualities change – they’ve changed over time – or at least what we consider important – by society’s standards. There are cultural differences as well as the gender differences you referred to. I’d like to add compassion to that list of qualities of today’s leaders

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Love it. I often think about an old boss who went out of his way to get to know his team and was extremely compassionate when I had a family loss. I would’ve ran through brick walls for him. I stayed in that role for a very long time because I respected him and his opinion. You can’t put a value on that trait. Thanks for commenting and for stopping by!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. You’re welcome – well they do say we leave managers (leaders) rather than companies – they really do make such a difference. Regrettably we need to experience the bad ones so we really recognise the good ones. The ones that scare me are those who don’t know they’re bad, who actually think they’re good

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, unfortunately, there more than a few who fit your description. It’s really sad. I think many of them try, but they don’t have the skill, training, etc. to be a great manager. They were rewarded for being a subject matter expert and have to learn to lead while they’re in the position. At least that’s what I’ve seen. Thanks for stopping by.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh I agree—after all, that is what Jesus said about leadership. “But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.””
        ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭20‬:‭26‬-‭28‬
        He makes it pretty clear, and sets the bar pretty high! Dove is an international network of churches, some large and some small (house churches!)that began out of two people wanting to help the youth where I’m from. It’s grown exponentially and I’m being trained to train others, to help establish more churches, most importantly to help people know Jesus. We get to do a lot of outreach and Street evangelism as well. It’s wonderful. Thank you for your well wishes. I definitely have a servant’s heart and I couldn’t be more excited.🙏🏼

        Liked by 1 person

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