What does it mean to be a good leader?

photo by John-Paul Henry

Samuel Pierpont Langley was an American physicist, astronomer, inventor and aviation pioneer. He made an unpiloted aircraft in 1896 which had two successful flights of 700 m and 1 km, and later that year, Number 6 model that could fly more than 1.5 km. Due to his success, Langley was granted 50 000$ from the War Department and 20 000$ from Smithsonian to develop a piloted aircraft. We know how that story ends – the Wright brothers were the ones who built and flied the first successful airplane in the world. Langley had experts, resources, help of the government, basically everything needed for building such an aircraft, and yet he didn’t succeed. Orville and Wilbur Wright, two simple mechanics, achieved what academic knowledge and vast resources couldn’t. Why?

Wilbur (right) and Orville (left) Wright

Wright brothers started as self-taught engineers in a bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio. Two brothers and their team, sharing a dream to fly through the vast skies and change humanity with their invention, left a lasting mark in development of the whole civilization. They had strong inner drive to achieve it, because they knew why they were doing it. Meaning of their goal helped them stand up when they fell and after years of hard work it all paid off.
Langley on the other hand, had a task with all resources needed for its accomplishment, but the essence wasn’t there. Being motivated by money and fame wasn’t enough to bring a revolutionary invention to life. This story is not the only example of this reoccurring theme. Nikola Tesla dedicated his life to advance the human race; his passion, genius and hard work changed the world forever. Story of him and Edison is well known, and looking from a certain distance in time the consequences of outcome can be seen. True passion and hard work are always victorious, sooner or later.

photo by Kinga Cichewicz

We need to be motivated on a deeper level in order to succeed and be happy, something to give our actions meaning. People of United States didn’t support Abraham Lincoln because they liked him or his cool hat – they believed in things he stood for. The message is more important than the messenger.

Giving meaning and motivating positive actions is one of the two most important things a good leader does. People will fight for what they believe, will work hard to make the world a better place, on a bigger or smaller scale. But none of that matters if you are not feeling good and welcome. Which leads me to the other and the single most important thing a good leader does – he takes care of his people. Being a leader doesn’t mean bossing people around and being only responsible for what they do, it means being responsible for them. Many people in power seem to forget that very quickly. If someone who you’ve hired 2 years ago has a sudden drop in efficiency in the last three months, you don’t go to scold them or tell them something like “If your numbers don’t go up soon, you’re fired”. This sounds better doesn’t it: “I saw that your numbers have declined recently…Is everything okay? Are you having some kind of problem? If I can help you somehow, I gladly would”. Empathy is easy to give and it always makes the person receiving it feel better.
To be a truly good leader you have to realize that it’s not about you. You are there to guide, motivate and care about people under your responsibility, all of you working for the same cause.

photo by rawpixel

Younger generations are being scrutinized and accused of being too lazy and demanding, only a few asking why is that. In the absence of good leadership and right causes, many young people are left disappointed, in apathy. Parents of these generations were/are more prone to overly protect their children or to give them too much freedom, being occupied by work all the time. Social media adds more fuel to the fire, presenting reality through filters, idealizing things that are not truly fulfilling. Fast life with so many stimuli makes us impatient and prone to easily quit, because we are getting used to instant gratification we get every day from the internet and social media, expecting reality to catch up. Expectation is the root of all disappointment, and all these aforementioned practices breed distorted impressions of reality and false expectations. When our ideals fall apart with a slap of reality or leave us unfulfilled, often a feeling of insecurity rises. It’s hard when you realize that world is not how you imagined it to be. With all these factors combined it makes sense why the situation is as it is. To solve this problem, we need proper leadership in every aspect of life. Altruistic, understanding and focused on the higher cause.

photo by Camille Orgel

Young people today just want to do something meaningful, be respected as human beings and enjoy life. Like probably every single person since the dawn of humanity. Why is this so relevant now is because good leadership is in great deficit, yet needed like never before. If so many leaders today are bad, we need to change that without, the usual, pointing fingers and aggression, but rather by stepping up and taking responsibility. Becoming the leader you want to see, influencing others through personal example. And I’m not talking only about the big scale, this mindset can be applied in everyday life. Leader is not a title, it’s a set of personality traits that include initiating and caring manner. Not everyone can make a company with thousands of employees and successfully lead it, but everyone can strive to have inspiring presence in the lives of their friends and family. The essence is the same, just different manifestation.