I once heard someone describe a true leader as one “who is the first to take the blame and the last to take the credit.” What a stark contrast too many of our modern politicians who seek out “plausible deniability,” who seek credit for all manner of positives, and point fingers at others for all manner of negatives. To listen to our political parties is to listen almost to children pointing fingers at the other when the glass breaks.
Leadership, to state it simply, is decisiveness. Leadership is being sure and confident. It is knowing, with clarity what you believe, and conveying that belief with the same clarity to others. Most people are not entirely sure what they believe, mainly because developing a confident and deeply felt belief system requires a great deal of time and thought. Most people look to leaders to tell them what to believe. There is nothing wrong with this. It is completely natural. When we were children, we looked to our parents and teachers, perhaps an older sibling for this. As adults, we do the same with politicians, historical heroes, spiritual guides, or more experienced adults.
Positive leadership is decisiveness that moves people forward to a better place—morally, emotionally, spiritually, physically, financially. Negative leadership, of course, does the opposite. Sometimes, however, these opposites might not be so easily distinguishable, or might be easily distinguishable only in hindsight. It obviously sounded appealing to Germans in the 1930’s to make the Jewish population the scapegoats of all of their economic woes, but that scapegoating somehow led first to the confiscation of their property, then their internment in ghettos, then their extermination in death camps. How? Because the Nazi leaders were so confident in their beliefs—horrific as they were—they managed to convince millions of the correctness of their views. There was no question, no doubt, no equivocation in the Nazi psyche as to whether they were right or wrong. Well, they were wrong, as were the millions who followed them.
Today, we see the same unequivocation with Islamist extremism. They are so confident in their calling, so sure of their world view, they are able to commit horrifying acts of violence against innocent men, women and children, and still thousands of people from all over the world flock to their cause. The decisiveness of it all is where the appeal lies, because so many do not take the time or energy to think about what they believe and why.
The obligation on all of us followers—and we all are followers to one extent or another—is to weigh seriously and objectively all of the ideas we hear from all sorts of leaders in all sorts of places and come to our own conclusions as to what we believe and should believe. We need to engage, in the words of John Stuart Mill, in the “marketplace of ideas.” It is our responsibility to choose wisely among the leaders we see and hear, and to choose those who will move us forward. It takes time to shop effectively and rationally in this market, to see clearly who is taking us to a better place, and who is marching us backward, who is “right” in the sense of advancing humanity in one way or another and who is “wrong.”
This begs the question, how do we know who or what is right? When we watch, and we listen, and we learn, we will know. We might disagree, but we will know. False prophets—the real false prophets—the Adolph Hitler’s and the Osama bin Laden’s—“you will know them by their fruits,” in the words of Jesus.
So, amidst all the noise about what is wrong with the world and how to improve it, the myriad of views we see on TV, and all around us about how things should be and how they need to be fixed and by whom, be the follower who listens, watches, learns, and knows, and be the leader who, when you do know, moves those around you forward to a better place.