Leadership Redefined



When we hear the word “leader,” we think of the most confident and flamboyant person we know, and rightly so. Leaders are thought to be outgoing, prepared, and sometimes ruthless, willing to tear down anyone or anything that gets in their way — all while maintaining a charismatic and likeable image. But are all leaders this way? If not, what, then, defines a true leader?

The complication with this question is that the ingrained interpretation of “leader” as defined above is not entirely correct, especially in the modern world. This is not to say that the stereotypical definition of a leader is a bad one; charismatic, confident, and courageous, leaders are the supposed embodiments of unreserved persistence and conviction (in other words, extroverts). People such as Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Oprah are acknowledged to be exceptionally extroverted commanders. But you don’t have to be an extrovert to be an adept leader — a great leader always comes with flaws, but the difference is that he or she has learned to accept and handle all the flaws well. In recognizing that success isn’t permanent, a leader defines success in terms of achieving goals rather than gaining popularity. Take, for instance, introverted individuals such as Rosa Parks, Abraham Lincoln, and President Barack Obama. Each leader has had to cope criticisms just by standing up for his or her beliefs. Thinking before acting differentiates introverted leaders from many extroverted leaders.

So, who are our leaders? The leaders of the past range from coercive to coaching, authoritative to affiliative, and pacesetting to visionary. Leaders come in all sorts of forms, not all of which are domineering or authoritative. The most ubiquitous yet often unappreciated leader across the globe is the classroom teacher. The leadership of teachers is not typical in that it is not manifested through the control a teacher may exercise over a class — rather, it is demonstrated through proficiency in the art of communicating a passion for learning and pushing students to work independently and follow their dreams. They understand that one of the most effective ways for students to remember a lesson is by making the lesson memorable. Teachers who do not simply “teach to the test” and who go beyond what their jobs require are the ones who create a lasting impact on students. By doing so, they bestow upon their students valuable life skills, such as perseverance, technique, confidence, and empathy.

Although Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg exhibits many unusual traits, he is nonetheless a leader in his own right. Dropping out of Harvard to pursue his vision of a more connected world, Zuckerberg has dealt with his share of criticism throughout his career. From declining Yahoo’s offer to buy Facebook in 2006 to managing the company after its shares dropped significantly in value, Zuckerberg has repeatedly displayed his ability to work through major problems. Even though Facebook’s CEO has become extraordinarily wealthy with the filing of his company’s IPO, Zuckerberg’s solitary goal has been, and continues to be, to connect people. A widely circulated letter from Mark Zuckerberg starts with: “Facebook was not originally created to be a company. It was built to accomplish a social mission — to make the world more open and connected.”

Perhaps an even more successful leader is Steve Jobs, who was a different type of visionary: he was able to provide a clear view of the products he wanted to create for the world. Jobs was able to motivate people to stretch beyond their limits — every engineer, every designer, and every artist knew that he was working on a dream worth pursuing. Like Zuckerberg, Jobs wasn’t motivated by money. His annual salary of $1 since his return to Apple has placed the majority of his wealth in an investment in the success of his own company. Jobs shared the knowledge he gained from Pixar with Apple in order to advance Apple beyond what anyone expected. His vision for a more technologically advanced society was revolutionary; his passion, extraordinary.

We can’t all be a Steve Jobs or a Mark Zuckerberg. Not all leaders are created equal, after all. Learning to develop a vision cannot be taught, but finding a passion for a dream can. Technology giants, teachers, entrepreneurs, government officials, and others are some of the many leaders in the world today responsible for bringing about change by spreading their own innovative ideas. They may have different characteristics, but they all share one thing in common: their commitment to a goal and their willingness to collaborate, communicate, and do whatever else it takes to achieve it.

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