Leadership as both a concept and a practice has changed with time. Often defined as the “ability to guide a group toward the achievement of goals,” leadership and its ideals have evolved throughout history alongside the changing economic, political, and cultural conditions of different societies.
Depending on the context, some styles of leadership may be more appropriate than others. Some leaders, for example, may lead in a way that resonates deeply with their people, inspiring them to action. Other leaders may meet resistance, especially when their leadership does not fulfill their people’s needs. Clearly, not all kinds of leadership are equal.
So how do we choose our leaders? An important factor in how we choose our leaders is how we understand what leadership is. Take a tour through out exhibit and see which understanding matches your own.
One of the oldest models of leadership, the Great Man is said to be a great leader because he was born with the unique abilities that make men great. All of history is thus said to be “the biography of great men,” as once remarked by philosopher Thomas Carlyle. It doesn’t matter what period of history the Great Man is born in: Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and Emilio Aguinaldo would still be destined to rise to the top because they are gifted with qualities that no one else has, and people will always naturally follow their leadership.
Another kind of leader is the trait leader, a leader that is made by the physical and personality traits that they possess. While some of these traits such as height and good looks are difficult to change, others such as extraversion, openness, and social intelligence were traits that could be actively developed by those who wanted to lead. Based on this understanding, a person becomes a leader because of the kind of person they look and act like.
The next kind of leader is the situational leader, whose characteristics make him fit to lead his people because of the present situation they face. Leaders emerge because of the circumstances surrounding them, since it is these circumstances that force them to develop skills and traits necessary for them to lead. Different kinds of leaders, this model suggests, are needed in times of peace and in time of conflict. Such a leader suits the adage that says: “Some have greatness thrust upon them.”
One more model of leadership is that of the transactional leader, who becomes a leader through some transaction with their people. In other words, such a leader is given power by their people because they fulfill their people’s needs. These needs may take the form of material benefits such as money, food, and safety, but they may also come in the form of more personal benefits such as praise and comfort. In exchange, the people devote themselves to the leader and act according to the leader’s direction.
The final model of leadership is that of the transformational leader, who becomes a leader because of their capacity to provide shared values and a vision for their people’s future. Through consistency between their words and actions, transformational leaders provide a positive role model for their followers, challenging them to be creative and face challenges to fulfill their potential. Combined with genuine care and guidance, the transformational leader’s followers feel inspired to go beyond ordinary expectations, as they are imbued with a profound sense of mission.
Given the different understandings of leadership that have developed through time, we are led to ask: What kind of leaders do Filipinos need today? What kind of leader can uphold the dignity of the Filipino people, defend their freedoms, and lead the nation to prosperity?
Reflect on what you think is the driving factor common to all these understandings of leadership. On the other hand, what do you think sets them apart? Which understanding of leadership is most like how Filipinos understand leadership? How about your personal understanding of leadership?
In the end, no matter how we understand the true meaning of leadership, we are always called to go beyond understanding, and act. How can I serve as an engaged Filipino citizen? How do I show my love for my country? What kind of leader would I like to be?
Illustrations by Joan Lao