We face challenges at every level of life today. Challenges exist within the corporate world, government, home and the church. Challenges define leaders and leadership. Determining the need for leaders and leadership is not the difficulty, but defining leaders who step up and provide what is needed when difficulties arise. Perhaps this is the greatest challenge before us in understanding true leadership.
Beginning as early as the 1920’s we find the definition of leadership based on the challenges facing our culture as a whole. The 20’s were characterized as “the lawless age.” While it was a conservative time, prosperity led to depression. Challenges developed quickly on every front. As the “Great Depression” dawned, government leaders took a greater role and leadership was defined as “the ability to impress the will of the leader on those led and induce obedience, respect, loyalty and cooperation” Steward. The purpose behind such actions led a depressed society into a more stable economy.
As the United States entered the 40’s, World War II dominated the decade. The war was instrumental in bringing an end to the depressed economy of this country. However, events such as the attacks on Pearl Harbor and the Holocaust created fear in the hearts of all people. As a result, the definition of leadership was adapted as “the art of influencing…people by persuasion or example to follow a line of action. It must never be confused with drivership…which is the art of compelling… people by intimidation or force to follow a line of action” Copeland.
The 60’s and 70’s brought revolutionary thinking to the United States. Advances in civil rights, growth in radical ideas, mystic religions, liberalism and a major introduction to humanism reshaped our understanding of leadership. The idea of leadership became a process “in which an individual takes initiative to assist a group to move towards the production of goals that are acceptable to maintain the group, and to dispose the needs of the individuals within the group that compelled them to join it” Boles and Davenport.
Throughout the last two decades a great emphasis has been placed upon the need for leaders. John Maxwell defined leadership simply as “influence, nothing more, nothing less” Maxwell. Prior to the events of 9-11 and the beginning of the war on terrorism, leadership, and the concept of a leader, were defined as “the art of motivating a group of people to act towards achieving a common goal…the inspiration and director of the action” Susan Ward.
With the passing of years, leaders have come and gone. Culture in America has been a key factor in defining leadership and the type of leaders represented. Perhaps it has always been this way regardless of the country or culture. However, the definition should be found in the very essentials of leadership. A leader is one who possesses the vision to see the future and speak as though it were present, the character to build trust and the passion to inspire the direction of others. Leadership is about establishing the goals to provide purpose and direction for the good of all based upon the abilities of the leader.