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A single individual capable of uniting, gathering, and motivating hundreds of thousands of other people is truly a remarkable phenomenon. In the contemporary world, this phenomenon is known as leadership. The concept of leadership, as well as its nature, has been studied and explored since ancient times as unique cases of the presence of a set of special skills and abilities allowing some people to gain unprecedented power and influence in various spheres. However, leadership does not stand only for large-scale events; in fact, it is present in everyday life and can manifest in simple situations such as team projects at work or in schools, gatherings, group work, interpersonal relationships, and family development. In that way, leadership qualities demonstrated by superior leaders such as Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, as well as those of average individuals such as the characters created by Carver and O’Brien, can be applied to improve the management of communities.
Superior Leadership of Outstanding People
Leadership styles can vary significantly from one person to another. For example, the style of Abraham Lincoln is interpreted in a variety of ways, the most common of which are the transformational and servant forms of leadership. In particular, due to his ability to view his rivals objectively and value the wellbeing of his country and people over his power and influence, Lincoln is recognized as a transformational leader (Coutu). At the same time, based on his outstanding empathy, humility, and active listening skills, Lincoln is also often associated with servant leadership (Brown 3-4).
When it comes to the style of leadership employed by John F. Kennedy, opinions differ as well. First of all, due to his extraordinary personal charm and unique character that made him particularly influential, Kennedy is often characterized as a charismatic leader (White 233-237). However, it is possible that this image of Kennedy was artificially created after his death. Secondly, there exists a perspective, according to which Kennedy was a visionary leader (Barnes 9-12). This idea is based on this leader’s ability to envision very unusual results, and thus launch projects that were considered controversial by his contemporaries.
Analyzing the most commonly discussed qualities of the two leaders, it is possible to notice that their personalities and skills were often viewed as unique or rare, and their ideas, plans, and projects – as exceptional and striking for the times in which they lived and worked. The two leaders are often idealized and admired as legendary people who often did things uncommon in their historic periods. Practically, this tendency creates the images of these leaders as courageous pioneers moving ahead of their times and creating history with their unprecedented decisions.
The leadership of Average People
Stories about outstanding decision-making, creative solutions, and extraordinary vision of the most renowned leaders are widely known by most people. However, average individuals can demonstrate unique leadership skills and abilities as well. For example, in Carver’s Cathedral, Robert, the blind man, comes to meet the narrator and throughout just one evening, manages to change this man’s mind about himself and his condition. In particular, from the very beginning of the story, it becomes clear that the narrator is not excited to meet the blind man, who is his wife’s good friend.
As the guest arrives and they sit down to have dinner and a chat, the narrator is rather critical and judgmental towards Robert. By the end of the same evening, this heavily prejudiced man was helping Robert to imagine a cathedral using the method proposed by the blind man. The narrator drew a cathedral with his eyes closed while Robert followed his pen with his fingers. Sharing this experience made the narrator want to keep his eyes closed, enjoying the feeling it created and thinking that “It’s something” (Carver 447). In a gentle and friendly manner, Robert became friends with the narrator and also, by asking him to describe a cathedral, taught him a little about how he perceived the world. This approach can be viewed as unintentional transformational leadership.
Out of all places in the world, battlefields and flashpoint areas are where leadership is one of the most critical attributes. In O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross is in charge of a group of foot soldiers one of whom gets shot and dies. Cross blames the death of his soldier on himself and his daydreams about Martha, the woman he loves. The tragic accident makes Cross reevaluate his attitude and change his behavior using forcing Martha out of his heart, burning all of her letters and photographs, and ordering himself to have “no more fantasies” (O’Brien 494). One could characterize Cross’s leadership as situational as he changes his behavior in response to the new conditions. While all of his men were alive, he allowed himself to relax and daydream. However, as the situation changed, the leader changed with it.
Leadership Qualities in a Local Community
Overviewing the previous sections, it is possible to notice that transformational, charismatic, visionary, and situational leadership styles were mentioned as displayed by the leaders under discussion. All of these forms of leadership could be used for the improvement of the local community. In particular, very often, community leaders are careful about investment and reluctant to introduce drastic changes due to the lack of support, insufficient planning, or the shortage of resources. However, a visionary leader could be helpful in this regard due to their ability to have a clear idea of the desired result and to pursue it with confidence. One example of such a leader is Steve Jobs who was able to envision technologies that were unimaginable at the time. This ability was what led him through his journey of putting his vision into practice and creating a tangible result that changed the entire world. A charismatic transformational leader could inspire community members to look for innovative approaches and propose changes that would improve the area in certain regards. Finally, the situational style of leadership could provide flexibility to the person in charge of boosting their responsiveness and sensitivity to various challenges.
To sum up, the world’s history and literature have multiple examples of outstanding leaders. Each of those leaders carries valuable information and could serve as a role model for many people. The leaders’ ways of thinking are the main aspects that make these people stand out from the rest of society, take over responsibilities, and achieve extraordinary results. Leadership skills and abilities can be developed through experience, special training, and learning. Partially, such learning can begin with reading about the decisions that were made by such superior leaders as Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, and some knowledge could be gained from the examples in literature such as Carver’s Robert and O’Brien’s Lieutenant Jimmy Cross.
Barnes, John A. John F. Kennedy on Leadership. AMACOM, 2005.
Brown, Crystal. “The Servant Leadership of Abraham Lincoln.” Servant Leadership Theory & Practice, vol. 2, no. 1, 2015, pp. 1-7.
Carver, Raymond. “Cathedral.” Reading Literature and Writing Argument. 6th ed., edited by Missy James, Alan P. Merickel, Greg Lloyd, and Jenny Perkins, Pearson, 2016, pp. 436-447.
Coutu, Diane. “Leadership Lessons from Abraham Lincoln.” Harvard Business Review. 2009, Web.
O’Brien, Tim. “The Things They Carried.” Reading Literature and Writing Argument. 6th ed., edited by Missy James, Alan P. Merickel, Greg Lloyd, and Jenny Perkins, Pearson, 2016, pp. 482-495.
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White, Mark. “Apparent Perfection: The Image of John F. Kennedy.” The Journal of Historical Association, 2013, pp. 226-246.