General, Young adult mental health, Child and adolescent mental health

27 January, 2009

Good leaders help ordinary people believe extraordinary things are possible

In the last 7 days we have bore witness to four prime examples of leadership, all incredibly diverse but equally effective - Barack Obama, Queen Elizabeth the Second, Garrett Fitzgerald and Jonathan Sexton. All of these individuals are deemed to be leaders in their own right and it is important to think about what makes a good leader.

Firstly there is Barack Obama, the American President whose skills as an orator helped him to win the toughest battle for leadership in the world, the American Presidency. He convinced people to come out in their droves of millions to pledge support for his ideals and he captured the hearts and minds of millions of Americans and people around the world who believed in him. Many believed that America would never see an African American President but his charisma and likability led people to identify with him and support his belief that ‘yes we can’. People believed in his vision and more importantly in his capacity to deliver on it and this facilitated his rise to become the most powerful man in the world. Barack Obama displays many of the qualities needed to be a leader; charisma, a belief in his own abilities, a great use of language and an awareness of human emotion. His delivery of words from College Green yesterday evening was convincing and inspiring and his capacity to communicate has earned him the highest position in public life.

Queen Elizabeth the second visited our shores last week. Many have questioned the ability of Monarchs to lead as they are chosen due to their bloodline as opposed to being elected or chosen by the people. However, on her state visit last week HRM Queen Elizabeth showed a quality of a true leader which is often under estimated. This is the quality of humility. When she demonstrated regret for mistakes made by her family in their management of their relationship with Ireland over the years this quality shone true. It takes courageto stand up to an enemy but it takes true bravery to stand against ones own. This characteristic of humility and her capacity to name her own errors or failings is the mark of true leadership.

Thirdly we have Dr Garrett Fitzgerald who led this country in the 1980’s. History may not recall him as a dynamic leader or a charismatic orator like Mr. Obama but the outpouring of eulogies spoke of his belief in the ‘Irish brand’ and his belief and concern for the Irish people. This quality is one that exists in the ‘Statesman Leader’. The Statesman Leader exudes a certain kind of respect and admiration for intellect and good intention and the ability to represent people in any setting. This type of leadership and identification is different but nonetheless an important leadership quality.

Finally we come to Jonathan Sexton, the young Leinster player who apparently spoke out in the dressing room at half time in Cardiff last Saturday. He spoke out amongst his more senior peers and commanded the room to listen to him. Young Sexton rallied his troops around and began to recall the great comebacks in sporting history and he believed that this Leinster team had the capacity for a similar feat. This leading from the front, self belief and more importantly the capacity to bring others along with you is one of the most remarkable characteristics of leadership.

In the difficult years that lie ahead it has never been more important to breed leaders in our young people. So how do we do it? Daniel Goleman identifies a quality called ‘Emotional Intelligence’. This is the concept of being able to read the emotions of others and be aware of the emotional state of ourselves. This quality he claims is far more influential over our lifetime then academic intelligence. Emotional Intelligence is the capacity to tap into the needs of others, respond appropriately and have an in depth knowledge of oneself. This is what creates the capacity to lead. It does not equate that those who score 600 points in their Leaving Cert will grow to become great leaders. Nor is it the case that success and fortune are the signs of great leaders. Leadership comes in many ways but a firm grasp of ones own emotions and the ability to communicate effectively with others is core to the leadership criteria.

So in so far as how we breed leaders in the future, we need to teach young people the power of communication. Encourage interpersonal knowledge and awareness. Encourage young people to feel emotion and believe in things. Encourage hope, dreams and visions, for these childhood dreamers will become the visionaries of the future.

Allow young people to experience surmountable adversity and do not over indulge or over protect them. The great Munster and Ireland rugby player Paul O’Connell once spoke about the need to taste adversity in order to lead and inspire. One has to lose to know how to win. It is important to experience disappointment, frustration and heartache in order to identify with those who experience it because usually it is in times of adversity when true leaders emerge. If heroes are ordinary people who do extraordinary things then leadersare those who help ordinary people believe that extraordinary things are possible.