What’s the Mark of a True Leader?

Some people say that true leaders are born; others believe that leadership can be developed in someone who has an innate potential. When we look back over the years and analyze the leaders who gained fame (or notoriety), we find that most, if not all of them, were responsible for choosing their own destiny.

They wanted to become leaders, and so they did, through the democratic selection process we call elections, through the violent process of war, or just through a natural disposition to lead when times are troubled and people around are desperate for efficient leadership.

There are leaders who inspire, and leaders who inspire nothing but fear. The former works towards a world where wrongs are put right and where everyone is encouraged to live up to their potential. The latter are synonymous with destruction; they seek only power, and in this quest, cause untold suffering and misery to the people around them and those they wage a war on.

Nelson Mandela belongs to the former category, and we could easily put Adolf Hitler in the latter. Both were leaders, but there was a major difference in their ideologies and their leadership styles. And so we see that it’s not enough to just be a leader – a true leader in every sense of the word must lead his or her people in the right direction, in the path that’s right for the greater good of the country (or company).

If we look at leaders in the present day context, the whole world is waiting with bated breath to see what kind of leader Barack Obama will turn out to be. After 8 years of George Bush, and with the current financial crisis looming large, America (and the rest of the world) is desperate for a change, and they keep their fingers crossed and hope that Obama will be a change for the better. And at the other end of the world, we have the North Korean dictator, the one known as “dear leader” by the people of his country, Kim Jong-il, who rules over his country with an iron fist and is feared and allegedly respected by all North Koreans alike.

Obama is on my list of personal heroes, in one aspect at least. He’s not the kind of political leader who lets pride or ego color his judgment – I like the way he signed on Hilary Clinton for the position of Secretary of State and the way he retained Robert Gates as Defense Secretary even though Clinton was his main rival for the presidency and Gates was a relic handed down from the Bush administration.

People talk of how he’s aping Abraham Lincoln’s “team of rivals” policy, but I think he’s getting the best people for the job, no matter what his personal differences with them are. And that, in my book, is the mark of a true leader, one who doesn’t let personal prejudices and emotions get in the way of business, the business of leading people on the right path.

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