The Danger of Idolizing Leaders

Julia Maher ‘23
Opinions Editor

As we grow up, other people and influences communicate to us how we should act and who we should be in the world. This inevitable communication can either be necessary or unnecessary. For example, it is necessary that we learn how to be peaceful and productive members of society, but it is unnecessary—even damaging—that we alter the essential characteristics of our personalities to fit certain expectations.

Our society largely expects us to be outgoing and extroverted. Often idolized and regarded as positive, these traits are integral to the American notion of good leadership. On the contrary, society labels introspective people as shy, aloof, and even antisocial. Therefore, with these negative connotations, some people wrongly view introspective people as ineffective leaders and, instead, idolize more charismatic leaders. Those who view outgoing people and introspective people as good leaders differ in their definitions of leadership. So, to start, who is a leader?

As some of the former group of people would define it, a leader is someone who inspires others through his or her charismatic, extroverted, and outgoing nature. They believe that in order for a leader to manage and inspire a group of people, the leader must form a hierarchy, with the idolized leader at the top and everyone else at the bottom. This model seems pretty logical initially, especially considering that a leader possesses many roles and responsibilities to lead others to a specific goal. So, an effective leader must reside at the top of a pyramid, right?

No. When a leader forms the top of a hierarchy, he or she becomes distant from others, which leads to ineffective leadership. If a leader cannot directly communicate with those he or she serves on a personal level, then how can those people feel inspired to act? When a leader resides at the top of the hierarchy, an inauthentic, aloof dynamic ensues, which leads to poor communication. When there is poor communication, very little can be accomplished.

On the contrary, as some of the latter group of people would define it, a leader is someone who supports and encourages others through his or her observant, introspective, and humble nature. They believe that in order for a leader to inspire and organize a group of people, the leader must exist among the more “ordinary” people and walk with them. No hierarchy or awkward dynamic exists; instead, there is a sense of comfort and familiarity among the leader and those the leader serves. This nonhierarchical model seems more illogical initially, but it is actually more effective and rational than the hierarchical model. Since the leader and everyone else share genuine, personal relationships, communication thrives, and the leader can celebrate each person’s strengths.

There are two dangers of idolizing outgoing leaders: it degrades those who are introspective and glorifies those who are outgoing. Both of these effects do not uphold each group’s human dignity; introspective leaders are told they are intrinsically unacceptable, and outgoing leaders are assigned unrealistic expectations. We are all better off if we accept each of our different personalities, without pressuring ourselves and others into altering the essence of who we are.

To close, here is a quote by Lao Tzu, “To lead people, walk beside them … as for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence. The next best, the people honor and praise. The next, the people fear; and the next, the people hate. When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ‘We did it ourselves!’”

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