Leadership can be a difficult concept to define. Within a society, leaders emerge at a number of different levels, in different areas of a culture. We find leaders in state office buildings, in places of worship, in office buildings, factories, and warehouses, in communities and charitable organizations, and in our federal government.
Some leaders are chosen in formal settings, and others assume responsibility when the need arises. In a representative democracy, the theory is that leaders are chosen by the people, and represent the whims of those who voted on their behalf. In practice, the "whims of the people" often represent a number of contradicting viewpoints and opposing calls for action. Leadership is the ability of a leader to respect these differing views, and to try to gain a consensus of opinion on a subject, and to take appropriate action when necessary. When someone is in a position of authority, they are also in a position of responsibility. It’s a responsibility of leaders to guide by following.
How do we tell when a person is an effective leader? One way is to create some type of benchmark, and compare that person’s actions to the benchmark. An often convenient method of doing that is to compare the leader with previous leaders. Peggy Noonan, in the Wall Street Journal opinion pages compares George W. Bush to Harry Truman. Businessweek online remarks about Bush’s attempts to emulate Ronald Reagan. The many speeches and press conferences we’ve seen by President Bush on television have some using his name in the same sentence as FDR.
Are comparisons to previous leaders helpful in determining the effectiveness of a present leader? Might they be just as effective as public opinion polls where the actual questions asked in the polls aren’t disclosed to the public. Perhaps some leaders in the media will arise and give us some idea of what types of benchmarks we should be looking for. Until then, maybe the best we will get is that Dubya is a lot like Harry, or Ron, or FDR.
- William Slawski