Follow the Leader


I'm almost finished with Grimm, the next book in Shayne Silvers’ Nate Temple Supernatural Thriller series. It's exciting. A lot of bad things happen to our protagonist, billionaire wizard Nate Temple. How he gets out of these messes is still to be revealed and I was hard pressed to put the book down and write this blog. But deadlines are deadlines and here we are. Today I'd like to explore the concept of leadership, what it means, what it requires and its various manifestations. And like Joseph Campbell's hero, when the call comes, many refuse at first. But destiny rarely takes "no" for an answer, and eventually, we answer the call or get kicked to the curb. Nate is a reluctant hero, but when it becomes obvious that he cannot avoid his fate, he steps up to become the leader we hoped he would be at the start of the series. You know I love protagonists who evolve in meaningful ways, who grow up despite desires to the contrary, and who end up ‘adulting’ with the best of them. Nate is such a character. He rises to the occasion to protect his friends and loved ones with little thought or care about the cost to himself.

When I was younger, influenced by a patriarchal society and a mother for whom mature males were the apotheosis of authority figures, I thought all legitimate leaders were old white men. As my horizons expanded, my ideas of leadership morphed to include men and women of all ages and races. Leaders, I came to believe, were serious folks who were appropriately somber when seeking any sort of following. 

I was wrong about leaders and many other notions I've entertained over the years. With respect to leadership, I've learned that there are many styles and approaches, some serious and others more light hearted. And while places like the military and business schools claim that leadership can be taught, I've never found that to be true. I believe leaders are born, not made. And while not all leaders will find opportunities to exploit their talents, there are many in positions of leadership who can fake it all they want, but they will never make it.

Leadership is something you have or you don't. Nate Temple has it. The ability to inspire others to follow him, willingly and enthusiastically. Those who follow know instinctively that their leader will put the cause or the mission, whatever it is—for good or ill—ahead of his or her own needs and desires. A real leader thinks of him or herself as a servant, not a master. Even in the Master Temple's case. In this book, he lives up to his title in the most ironic sense of the word.

And therein lies the rub. Many bad leaders believe that they have been elevated because they are better than those who serve them. Nothing could be further from the truth. A real leader never asks anyone to do something they would not do willingly. A real leader distributes scarce supplies to others instead of keeping them. A real leader fights at the front of their troops, not from the rear. Real leaders are willing to sacrifice themselves for those they lead, both literally and figuratively.

Leadership is sometimes about explicit charisma, but not always. Many leaders are physically gifted as well, with height or beauty or just an aura of power. But this is not always the case, as with spiritual leaders, who are often self-effacing, or unlikely leaders, such as those who rise out of adversity during oppression or war, like Nelson Mandela.

I think there are many of us who fancy ourselves leaders. Perhaps I should only speak for myself here, because I know I think of myself as a leader of men (and women), if only on a small scale. And maybe that is a distinction as well:  leaders both large and limited. I don't see myself as president or as a military general, but I know that I am more likely to be at the head of the pack than at the back. Moreover, I don't follow so well, which places me firmly in the category of chief, not Indian. 

But wouldn't most of us rather ride in the front of the roller coaster?  Or maybe I'm just projecting my own desires on the rest of humanity and assuming everyone is just like me—I am painfully aware that this is far from true. Because the cold reality is that the vast majority of humans live to follow. They follow charlatans and false prophets as easily and often as true leaders because they would rather not have to think for themselves or engage in the often messy business of figuring it out as they go along. Most of humanity takes the road more traveled, by definition. 

Not that I'm judgmental or anything. Of course I am. I am more than willing to follow a worthy leader, but I don't have much respect for those who fall for facile answers and appeals to fear (a certain president comes to mind). I have no empathy for sheep. Or those who feel victimized by their own lack of fortitude. But I digress. We were talking about leaders, real and imagined. I prefer the real kind. Even when they are fictional, as in the case of Nate Temple. Once again, I'm finding truth in fantasy in all the best places.