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Four Years at the Mount

Senior Year

New year, new leaders

Kyle Ott
MSM Class of 2015

(2/2015) Leadership is a term often thrown around by self-help books and motivational speakers the world over. Despite just how often the term is used, we seemed to have lost much of the word’s meaning. Nowadays anyone can be a leader; the concept is applied in a vast number of ways, so much so that its meaning has been diluted.

Perhaps it is because of my chosen degree, but to me, the idea of taking command both of others and of a situation has started to appear more like a social construction rather than actual role that is set in stone. This got me thinking. If there is no such thing as true "leadership," if all that this term encompassed was created by human beings and not set in stone, then what is it that gives someone the quintessential characteristics of a leader? I decided to draw on my knowledge of history and my own personal experience (limited though both factors may be) and try to isolate the fundamental traits of this social construction.

1. A Desire to Serve.

To paraphrase a popular Nazarene folk-preacher, "The last shall be first and the first shall be last." While often used as an adage with regards to humility, it also fits a general trend that appears throughout history: the best leaders are ones who serve something greater then themselves. Consider for example two historical figures as different as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Vladimir Lenin. Despite being separated by skin color, time, and geography, both of these gentlemen got thousands of people to follow their examples, and by doing so, changed the face of the world. The thing that united them was also the thing that allowed them to be so utterly successful: they wanted to serve. For Lenin, it was an ideal. He was a man driven and defined by his convictions that a communist system of government could lift his people out of depression. King was similarly pushed by a desire to see all men achieve equal rights. While they were both flawed, simple human beings, they were both bound to a cause greater than themselves. By all historical accounts, it is that overarching goal that gave them the strength they needed to succeed.

It is entirely possible that someone can develop a real talent and opportunity for leadership. If an individual is driven by a desire to see the rest of their staff succeed, to watch them grow and become more cohesive together, then that person is in fact on the steps towards leadership.

2. An Urge to Utilize the Opinions of Others.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt may have been one of the greatest presidents to have ever graced the White House, and while he achieved many important things during his unprecedented four terms, his example was perhaps his greatest legacy. Franklin Delano Roosevelt prided himself not on being the smartest person in the room, but on surrounding himself with the smartest people he could gather. His "think tank" was an impressive gathering of engineers, social philosophers, and economist men whose advice was heeded by the man who sought to govern and govern well. Roosevelt, like other great men, had more than his fair share of flaws. However, he was still dedicated to using the opinions of others to supplement his own limited knowledge. As Roosevelt himself said, "The most important single ingredient in the formula to success is knowing how to get along with people."

The lesson can be easily applied to our own lives. If anyone wishes to attain a level of personal and professional growth, they must take into account the opinion of those they wish to lead.

3. An Acceptance of Change.

Rush, in the classic song, "Today’s Tom Sawyer," said that "changes aren’t permanent but change is." Aside from satisfying my love of using rock band references, Rush has an excellent point. Great leaders do not stray away from doing something wildly different, even if doing so seems crazy at the time. Consider for example the actions of George Washington in his first term as president. One of his most far reaching and smartest decisions was to force America out of foreign politics at a time when there were many countries that were vying for an alliance of some sort with America. At the time, it was part and parcel for leaders to make binding and often costly alliances as a way to cement a country’s place in the world order. Washington’s decision was to some a wild departure from the normal diplomatic procedure of the day. However crazy the decision to change major policy may have appeared, it was one that actually allowed America to survive its infancy relatively unscathed.

In a similar way, leaders should be encouraged to embrace change and create a culture that allows fluid development.

Hopefully you have found these little vignettes on leadership informative. In this New Year, it is important to remember that it is never too late to develop and change into the person you want to be. I’m Kyle Ott. Won’t you sit and read for a while?

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