Part I. A concept that I find interesting in John W. Gardner’s, ‘On Leadership’, is the concept of ‘leaders shape and are shaped.’ There are many inherent qualities that give one leader potential, such as determination, motivation, and goal orientation. These qualities enable a leader to continue to push forward regardless of the obstacles they may encounter. When it comes to motivating, leaders must be able to motivate and influence those that depend on them in a way that shapes them into stronger minds and greater achievers. John W. Gardner’s, ‘On Leadership’ explains all of theses concepts but does not limit his description of leaders to individuals that shape others but rather to individuals that allow others to shape them as well. I am in agreement with Gardner. Being in a position of power does not make one a leader, but rather the ability to make others unite under a single institution or for a specific cause. Leaders must not only be able to teach but to be taught as well. Gardner is saying that something can be learned from any one thing, and a good leader does not let ego or position stop him from learning from any one person, and applying that learned knowledge to becoming a better leader.
I found particularly insightful the discourse on continuity of success of an organization where government body with regard to the institutionalization of improvements of reforms. This is perhaps the greatest mark of an exceptional leader because their presence can create a strength in the present and forge an infrastructure serving the purpose of maintaining such measures, tactics, and even ideals as were supported during the tenure of the leader that they might continue long after under what might be more disparate or less effective personal leadership.
What I found particularly evocative in Gardner’s treatise on leadership was the description of the intangible aspect of leadership. An exegetical reading of Gardner leads one to understand that what he describes is in effect the human component of leadership that transcends the quantifiable algorithmic understanding of the nature of leadership. He explains that a leader is much more than the sum of his parts. There is an inherent quality of such a person that cannot be understood through dissection of their positive attributes within the context of a given time period in society. This is particularly interesting because divesting a leader of this quality is describing the person as more of a competent manager capable of efficiently carrying out task whicle a leader is like to inspire the people who follow and cerate an emotional relationship that seals said followers to him. As an added point, this quality, given that it transcends time period and particular societies is a universal trait of all great leaders and is often the reason why admiration for these individuals is perpetuated throughout history and does not simply end with their passing. This can then be referenced back to the above description of the persistence of a given leaders reforms in that their personal qualities which imbibe to their followers with confidence in the movements that they lead often leads to successors maintaining those changes not only because they are effective but because they harken to a time where this great individual was still an active participant in developing their organization or nation.
While an insightful evaluation about the qualities of leadership, John Gardners, On Leadership, argue several points which I did not find resonated strongly with me and were contrary to my own theses on leadership. Among these points was his argument that there are no traits that guarantee successful leadership in all situations. This notion is erroneous from the outset because there are no traits that will guarantee the success of leadership in any situation let alone all situations. The success or failure of leadership is dependent on a number of factors pertaining to the leader as well as exogenous factors, in this regard Gardner and I are of one mind; however, where my own beliefs deviate from his are at the notion that the circumstance of a “perfect storm” of the perfectly suited leader to a given situation will often emerge. This thesis if true would then be arguing that such a leader could only have been successful in those particular circumstances and that those circumstance s could have been effectively handled by only this type of leader. A major problem of this supposition is that it prevents establishing an internally consistent logic within Gardner’s work because he argued for the importance of the indefinable intangible human factor associated with leadership. In addition, the theory does not stand well against a historical comparison whereby several well known leaders who were established during a given time period saw success in leadership across several extremely different situations. A pertinent example of one such individual is Dwight D. Eisenhower. Who was an extremely successful military leader who transitioned into a civilian political leadership role. He saw tremendous success in both arenas and was confronted with a myriad of challenges both foreign and domestic, both military and economic.
An additional component that I find lacking in Gardner’s analysis is the overweight consideration of the leaders role or rather the underweighted consideration of the role of the constituency. Certainly it is true that a society, a government, or an organization is capable of accomplishing significantly more and be much more successful under the leadership of a talented head, Gardner’s work fails to ascribe importance to the independent dealings of the various component groups of a constituency as well as the dynamism which often characterizes a constituency over the course of a given leader’s tenure. Also, there is often a disconnect between the conduct of a leader and the conduct of his followers. Although a group will benefit from their leader’s example and direction, motivation must be somewhat self induced and stimulated by exogenous forces, but drive cannot be originated in others purely by their magnetic character.
Following my reading of John Gardner’s book, I find myself far better informed on the nature of leadership. Most important in a leader is two seminal features: firstly, a strong leader must be able to ensure a succession of his ideals, principals, and reforms. It is necessary in absolute for a leader’s work to be effective in the long-term that he establish mechanisms by which those that follow can ensure the longevity of his improvements. This was especially interesting to me as the discourse on the human aspect of leadership was the most evocative to my sensibilities; however, the intrinsic, unquantifiable quality is an essential quality of the epic leader. Nevertheless, without creating the structures which are certainly quantifiable, it becomes impossible for the leader to effect meaningful long-term change. This is the seminal point that I took away from Garner. The ideal leader must be an individual of layers. He must have vision to create that which is not, and practicality to ensure that it can continue when the engine that drove its construction is no longer there. In this way, the greatest leaders of a generation are in fact the greatest leaders of an age as that which they gave birth to becomes the bastion for strength and the platform for growth.