A silver bullet for successful leadership doesn’t exist. Unless of course, you happen to have a box of them.
One phrase, or title of a book, can’t encapsulate leadership. It can of course open the door to a theme of understanding that illuminates aspects of leadership. So to be a disciple of ‘principle-centered leadership’, ‘authentic leadership’, or ‘strengths based leadership’, is often a lens on leadership that strikes a chord with you, rather than the be all and end all of what makes a great leader.
And then there are phrases like ‘saying no, not yes’, ‘doing the right thing’, ‘share the pain’, or ‘putting first things first’, all of which may be perceived as the nirvana of great leadership. And yet again, these are just phrases that embody aspects of leadership.
Many an aspiring student or enthusiastic employee seeks to find the ‘holy grail’ of leadership truth. ‘What techniques can I learn’ or ‘who can I copy’ become expeditions of discovery and aspirations of achievement. I sometimes wonder if the consumerist society that many of us live in is guilty of feeding this hunger for silver bullets in being a great leader. Role models in developed societies are often sporting figures, business leaders, or celebrities. They can be quoted, mimicked or worshipped as leaders. Other leadership role models often quoted are great military leaders or religious leaders. Many of these examples can indeed be great leaders, often within their own contexts, but also with principles and capabilities that can be transferable.
It may be helpful to consider who would be considered a great leader in a developing country. Having spent a fair amount of time in the villages of southern India, I might suggest that leadership is more defined in terms of subsistence, dominance or religious criteria – many of which are related to the cultural heritage and status of the local population. In this context also, there are principles and capabilities that can be learned from, without there being a silver bullet of what makes a great leader.
It is often very comforting when you hear of a son or daughter talking about a parent as a paragon of virtuous leadership. Or to hear of an example of great leadership in a media story. Whatever our experiences are, great leaders are everywhere.
Rather than throwing around silver bullets defining leadership, great leaders have a desire to learn from many to benefit many ….. there goes another silver bullet!