Leaders and Leadership | Belleville intelligence

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Over the years, many men and women have been hailed as great leaders. But what exactly is leadership? The simple answer is, it’s an ability to get others to follow you. The more complicated part of the equation is trying to figure out what goes into creating this ability. Here, the analysis produces many explanations: some relate to personal qualities of character, others to speaking skills and others to physical attributes. And the mix varies depending on the individual involved.

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In the mid-20th century, the Western world produced three notable leaders: US President Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and French General Charles de Gaulle. They were all known for their leadership skills, but it would be hard to think of three more disparate human beings. Roosevelt was a disabled man who spent most of his presidency in a wheelchair, Churchill was a stocky little politician while de Gaulle was a tall, distinguished-looking soldier. Each had speaking skills, but was very different in nature. Roosevelt’s warm “fireside conversations” on the radio gave comfort to a nation suffering from the aftermath of the Great Depression. Churchill’s speeches exuded Britain’s determination to resist the threat posed by Nazi Germany but were marked by stern realism (“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, sweat. and tears ”). De Gaulle rallied the French in a grandiose fashion to overcome their defeat against Germany and continue to fight (“France has lost a battle, France has not lost the war”). Each was inspiring in its own way.

Roosevelt was a man who instinctively understood the feelings of the American people and knew how to formulate and adapt his policy accordingly. Churchill drew on the best of the British people and harnessed it with imagination. De Gaulle had a deep sense of French history and could inspire patriotic favor in his compatriots. Roosevelt was not an intellectual and left no literary legacy. Churchill, meanwhile, won the Nobel Prize in Literature for his history of the English people. And de Gaulle has produced books on the art of war, and his memoirs are enduring literary works. Yet these remarkably different men have all succeeded in rallying their peoples to meet daunting challenges.

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World War II also produced two other notable leaders: the Italian Benito Mussolini and the German Adolf Hitler. Mussolini was a tall, sturdy man whose mere physical presence inspired confidence in the Italians. His obvious patriotism and his talents as a speaker made people want to follow him. In many ways, Il Duce was a force of nature. The same could not be said of Hitler, who was short and physically unappealing. What he lacked in physical attributes he made up for with passion. His speeches and harangues could turn crowds into devoted and enthusiastic followers. Mixing a combination of love and fear, he inspired the Germans to follow him into a war that led to the destruction of their country. Leadership can sometimes have very negative consequences.

In somewhat less dramatic circumstances than World War II, the 20th century produced other notable leaders. Among them are President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, President John F. Kennedy of the United States, Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau of Canada, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Great Britain and President Nelson Mandela of South Africa. Other less inspiring leaders have also left their countries with a positive legacy. Among them are German Chancellor Willy Brandt, Prime Minister Lester Pearson of Canada, President Ronald Reagan of the United States and President Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union. All of them have left their mark on what was an eventful half-century.

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This century has been characterized by a series of formidable challenges, which have brought out the best of the best leaders. Among them were overcoming the social and economic consequences of the Great Depression, winning World War II, rebuilding a war-torn Europe, ending colonial rule in Asia and Africa, winning the race. to the moon, to manage and end the cold war, to bring a peaceful end to apartheid in South Africa. Most of the leaders mentioned so far in this article have seized the opportunity. While it may seem odd to mention the names of Kennedy, Thatcher, and Gorbachev in just one paragraph, they all displayed one trait in common: extraordinary courage in the face of adversity. And courage is one of the hallmarks of great leadership. The same is true of relentless determination in the pursuit of political or other goals.

The first 20 years of the 21st century have not yet produced challenges on a scale comparable to those of the last century, but could do so in due course. While dramatic in themselves, the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington are by no means comparable to the carnage of WWII. And the response to them was just as dissimilar. Like a strutting peacock, President George W. Bush has launched a so-called war on terrorism with his ill-fated invasion of Afghanistan. And he compounded the mistakes of his error-prone presidency with his invasion of Iraq and his reaction to the devastation of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina. At a time when the United States needed great leadership, it was sadly lacking.

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President Barack Obama’s record is clearly mixed. He took strong steps to pull the United States and others out of the financial and economic crisis of 2008-2009. For that, he deserves all the marks. But his handling of foreign policy left a lot to be desired. Its attempt to “reset” relations with Russia came to nothing, and its “pivot” to Asia was a very half-hearted endeavor. Where he has certainly failed is in his approach to the civil war in Syria. After declaring a “red line” on the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian dictator against its civilian population, Obama took no action when the bloodthirsty regime of Bashar al Assad crossed the red line. It was seen as a sign of weakness and indecision around the world and did no good to the reputation of the United States. He emerged at best as a seriously flawed leader.

Among the leaders of the 21st century, the gold medal must go to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In its calm and unpretentious way, it has become the foundation of the European Union. For 16 years, she was the firm hand that guided the EU through a succession of political and economic crises, from the fractures of the euro zone to the Russian invasion of Crimea to Brexit. While not normally known for her grand gestures, her decision to admit a million Syrian refugees to Germany in 2015 sets her apart from all her contemporaries. It was a bold and courageous move. His retirement from his political office this year will leave a huge void in the heart of Europe.

True leadership requires a combination of different qualities: intelligence, character, determination, perseverance, empathy, courage and public speaking skills. Although leaders possess these qualities to varying degrees, there is one obvious truth: the world needs more. Only the challenge of climate change concerns them.

Louis A. Delvoie is a retired Canadian diplomat who served abroad as Ambassador and High Commissioner.

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