Presidents’ Day and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day bring to mind the fact that national leaders have the ability to affect the well-being of many, many people. Such commemorations also offer us an opportunity to reflect on what role a “leader” plays in our own lives as well as the life of our communities, our nation, and the world.
When I asked a Generation X colleague to name a leader, he paused, looked at his computer monitor blankly, turned to me and said, “I can’t think of anyone. People my age don’t have leaders. Maybe if we didn’t know so much about Clinton, I’d think of him as a leader.”
Then, I rephrased the question. Had there been people in his life who’d inspired him, driven him to look more deeply at himself and how he interacted with the world? After a moment he said, “Yes. Definitely. One was my Kung Fu teacher when I was 14 or 15. He made a big difference for me.”
From my colleague’s perspective, a leader is not a person who is “served up” to the public as a leader by title alone, but rather a person who touches one’s life in meaningful ways.
Why Be Led?
Why do we need leaders in the first place? It may be because we learn by example, and leaders instinctively inspire by example. If our parents are generally good-natured, protective and balanced in their approach to childrearing, we will, at least in theory, grow to be similar adults.
In fact, isn’t there an element of parenting that we desire from our leaders? Don’t we want, even expect them, to protect us, to be good-natured, to be balanced in their approach, to be, well — good?