What do we mean by leadership? What do leaders do?
We have little hesitancy in answering these queries, at
least loosely. Leaders are those who clarify under-standings : who crystallize
sentiment and opinion; who marshal the forces in any work or movement;
who get things done. Leaders are dominant in type;
forceful, powerful—sometimes charming, sometimes ruthless, but they always accomplish.
But a question that is far more searching, and far more difficult to answer is, "How do they do it?" This is a profound query which puzzles us mightily, and the reply to it would be correspondingly enlighten-ing. "How do they do it?"
It is easy to array a lot of terms like personality, force, character, poise, judgment, vision, magnetism, generalship—which mean much and explain little. It is easy to look upon a leader as a superman, who is superlative in spite of everything—-who must be great—who just couldn't help being so if he tried. I fear that our concepts of leaders are strangely at fault, and that we can scarcely rely upon them as accurate.
We can give any desired length of list of men who have been leaders, and who readily would be accepted by everyone as such. Pick at random: Napoleon, Washington, Bryan, Moses, Caesar, Socrates, Riche-lieu, Columbus, Cicero, Shakespeare, Edison, Bessemer, Gutenberg, Mozart, Mahomet, Confucious, Christ, Lin-coln, Faraday. They are to be found in all fields of human activity. They are not all equally great—no one would assert equality. Even from the standpoint of profane history. Wells has characterized Christ as the greatest leader of all time. But what are then-common elements? Does their greatness depend upon their similarities, or upon widely different attributes?
Recently, I have had the pleasure of reading a paper written by Dr. C. R. Mann upon the topic "Business Management as a Profession: Leadership." In this discussion, he asserts that it is much preferable, as well as much easier, to Judge people as to their leader-ship on the basis of their actions, rather than upon their abstract qualities. This seems to be a very logical conclusion to reach, and certainly Dr. Mann, who has tried long and arduously to make the deter-mination, should be listened to with respect.
It is an exacting task to analyze a person's character. and to evaluate him in terms of industry, personality, intelligence, sociability, and the other elements which I named in my early paragraphs. It is equally per-plexing for us to say which ones of these qualities one must possess, and in what proportion they must be joined, to make one a leader. These are two enor-mously difficult tasks—to analyze the man, and to analyze the job in like units—and years of attempting to do them have brought to us only meager and un-satisfying results.
Perhaps Mann is right. You may have noted that as I began this article, I used two different methods of describing leaders. In the fourth paragraph I spoke of personality, force, character, poise, judgment, etc., stopping short of the long list I might have given. And when I had done, you knew no more than before of what a leader is like.
On the other hand, in the second paragraph I spoke in terms of action, and left you with clear concepts of certain attributes common to leaders, and even neces-sary to them. They "clarify understandings * * *," etc.
Even a better way is to study the deeds of leaders, and see the overt actions by which they do these things. Biography is one of the most enlightening of all studies if perused understandingly, for it gives us character in concrete action. We grasp and under-stand actions more readily than we do abstractions. We are more interested in actions than in generalities.
Biography is encouraging and inspiring. Who can read the lives of great men and women without feeling a desire to emulate them? We strike a blow at slavery, with Lincoln. We hopefully peer westward from the Santa Maria, with Columbus. Our fingers caress the keys with Paderewski's. We wing across the ocean with the "lone eagle." We try to imprison the electric current with Franklin. We press on to Ujiji with Stanley. Touched with sympathy, we go from cot to cot among the wounded soldiers, with Florence Nightin-gale. We organize great relief corporations with Herbert Hoover.
There is nothing we cannot do—in our imaginings, as we visualize the deeds of the great leaders. We gather courage from them. We see their visions. We create with them. We are re-energized. Our souls are enlarged and compass mankind. We, too, are enabled to be and to do!
Leaders. One of their greatest triumphs comes from inspiring others to lead, too.