by Lara Gladych –
Seaside Magazine wants to live up to our slogan of being “the voice of the Saanich Peninsula,” so in every issue we’ll be asking people to answer one simple question. We’re looking for responses from all ages and across the diverse neighbourhoods that form our community.
At the time of my interviews, the national election was one week away. It was very much at the forefront of many people’s minds, weighing heavily on some as they questioned their choice. “What, in your opinion, are the essential qualities of a great leader?” I asked. I stipulated with each interviewee that though political leadership was very much on everyone’s minds, to consider, too, professional leadership, spiritual leadership, etc.
I have long been fascinated by the natural qualities of a leader. I’ve always had a sense that the greatest leaders in my life haven’t always been obvious to begin with and usually don’t identify as leaders, but rather, are those who have come to the forefront over time as being of truest character, conviction and heart.
(I recently re-watched The Lord of the Rings, and thought to myself that Frodo Baggins (and Bilbo before him) perfectly exemplify what a great leader is in my mind. I would follow Frodo to the ends of Middle Earth if he needed me.) “The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not a bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humour, but without folly.” (Jim Rohn) I like this so much because it emphasizes both the notion of toeing that very fine line, and the responsibility to keep oneself in check.
Locals had many to-the-point and articulate thoughts on the subject this month, and though there was some overlap in ideas, I was pleased that answers were also quite varied. Ursula was the first person I spoke with, and she chose to address professional leadership. “Intelligent, empathetic, fair, not pompous but down-to-earth – very important – and above all, somebody who tells the truth. We just voted, and it’s been the hardest decision I’ve made in a long time. I’m still agonizing right now. I’ve never felt so torn.”
Michelle’s response was one of my favourites: “A great leader is somebody who can be looked up to by children and people who are learning to be good humans.”
Lorne and I spoke for quite some time, and I promised I would do my best to condense his thoughts and wisdom. He had this to say: “Somebody that’s inclusive rather than exclusive. A leader is someone who can bring people together for a common cause. A leader is somebody that can put principles before personalities.” Of utmost importance to Lorne was the ability for leaders to talk to each other, regardless of ideological stance, in order to find compromise.
I met Scott and Diane, two cyclists enjoying a coffee break from their ride. Scott said this: “To me, because this is how I am, I see it as somebody who leads by example. That’s what I see. We can all give people lip-service, we can say whatever we think people want to hear. It’s the bigger picture of seeing them. That’s how I lead my life. If people watch me, whether they think I’m a leader or not, how do I carry myself? We’re all theoretically a leader to some degree.”
As for Diane, she said that a great leader is “somebody who provides a clear direction, is transparent in the way they operate, and that you can trust.”
Renée and Abby were the next passers-by. Renée said: “Somebody who’s responsible, smart, and knows the right thing to do.” Abby added that “they have to be respectful and responsible, and wise.”
Carolyn answered my question with a leader in mind who she perceives as lacking these qualities. To her, a great leader is “someone you can respect and who’s truthful, and that will listen to you.”
Gordon said: “One who has a vision; one who’s able to articulate that vision to the people he or she works with and also be able to have those people see themselves in that vision.”
“How about some honesty?” This was Ian. “I would suggest some empathy, and basically, willingness to compromise rather than sticking to the partisan point.” On the flip-side of an unwillingness to compromise, Ian also brings to the discussion the ability to make a hard decision and stick with it.
This same ideal was echoed by Stephanie. “The ability to follow through when they say they’re going to do something. The tenacity to actually do it, even though they come up to people that oppose them; do it, if that’s what they stand for.”
I love these words from M.D. Arnold: “A good leader leads the people from above them. A great leader leads the people from within them.”