Granted the gift of free will, many nonetheless choose to abdicate this volition, overwhelmed or exhausted by the prospect of self-determination. Outsourcing brain power to talking heads, to bloggers, to fools is both easier and less fraught than navigating this life on one’s own accord. One can claim credit for successes and yet cast any failures at the feet of the influencer, if such failings are acknowledged at all. It is a worldview low on consequence and high on cowardice. The ringleader, that shameless charlatan, is only too happy to exploit this predilection for personal gain.
True, positive leadership is an innate trait possessed by a privileged few. Followers are drawn to these leaders organically, as moths to a flame. Leaders with this intangible essence are often reluctant to step into a position of power, unaware of the effect that they have upon people. These exemplars speak their own truths and find that others are keen to listen, having tapped into something fundamental. They inspire with messages of optimism and universality and with their own gracious and admittedly flawed humanity.
The ringleader, in contradistinction, is a legend in his or her own mind, convinced of greatness despite considerable evidence to the contrary. Fueled by such delusions, the ringleader’s pursuit of power is both obvious and relentless. Possessing neither natural charm nor benevolent intentions, the ringleader must resort to the whip as the ringmaster corrals a circus elephant. Since the ringleader’s message is either distasteful or counterintuitive, such cajoling is necessary. Ringleaders use fear and shame and others’ lack of confidence to their advantage, invoking negativity to consolidate their positioning. The ringleader creates a myth of invincibility that is intended to awe would-be followers into submission.
These divergent leadership styles are apparent in our national-level sociopolitical and economic structures, but they begin in childhood. With a seven-year-old daughter in the house and a deck that looks out to a popular playground, I am well-acquainted with this milieu. Most pernicious is the early-to-develop boy who uses the brute force, cruel taunts, and other trappings of the insecure bully to amass his little squadron of miscreants. These putatively sweet boys do not yet have the emotional intelligence or the physical maturity to resist his tyranny. I hope that this trajectory does not continue into their adulthood; that they do not become so used to this treatment that they lose their own precious identities.
Conversely, there is the quiet but strong girl that stands resolute in the midst of the maelstrom of daily pre-adolescent/pre-teen dramas. Her calm, confident manner has an almost hypnotic effect on those that travel in her orbit. Without seeking the role, she has become the de facto arbitrator for the community and an example for all. Despite the presence of other strong personalities, who attempt to usurp her status due to their own jealousy, her influence remains unflappable. I can only hope that her beacon remains bright as she weathers the storms of adolescence. She will be an incredible force for a world that could use more of her kind.
Although these anecdotes happen to track traditional gendered conceptions of the physical male and the emotional female, that is mere happenstance. There is nothing ordained in someone’s corporeal form that predestines modes of social interaction. Leadership is, above all, a matter of heart. One need not even be strong enough to hold a bullwhip to issue stinging rebukes, nor have the shoulders of Atlas to carry the hopes of humankind.