What is a leader?

March 18, 2022

This question comes up often, especially during campaign season. I think that often much of the conflict that we face in our country comes from a difference in expectations from our leaders. What is a leader’s job? And, ultimately, as we grapple with the question of how to cast our vote, what makes a good leader?

In our society, we have lots of leaders and even more ways to identify them. Sometimes it is an emblem on a car or some sort of badge or seal. It begs the question, though: If we go to such great lengths to point out who the leader is, are they really a leader?

A few weeks ago, I was sitting on the board of review for a young man who was about to receive the rank of Life Scout. One of the other committee members on the review board gave just about the best definition of a leader that I have ever heard. He explained to the Scout that this new rank meant he would need to take on even more leadership roles in the troop. He reminded the Scout that leadership is more about responsibility than it is about reward. He explained that as a leader he had a responsibility to keep the other Scouts safe. He told the Scout that as a leader it was not about doing what he wants, but rather leadership is about making sure that others have opportunities to reach their goals and be successful. He asked for a commitment from the Scout that he would focus on helping younger Scouts achieve the successes that he has achieved. At the end of the day, his success would be directly related to the success of those that he led.

How different would our world be if more leaders felt this way? Imagine if the success of our leaders was not based on the amount of money in their war chest, the amount of media attention they receive or even the number of votes they received in the last election. Instead, imagine a world in which the success of our leaders is judged by the accomplishments of those they lead. Not just those at the top but everyone.

We all face obstacles in our lives. Some are more challenging than others, but all stand in the way of achieving our potential. For some it may be a lack of affordable, quality child care that stops a parent from returning to the workforce. Others may face food insecurity because they can’t pay for groceries while grappling with skyrocketing housing costs. I am sure that there are many who are challenged by health problems and cannot afford proper treatment.

Each of these scenarios represents real problems faced by real people every day. Unfortunately, our leaders can’t seem to find the time to truly address these problems. Perhaps it goes back to how we judge a leader’s success. People who face these struggles tend not to be the ones lining a politician’s pockets.

David Roth

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