Leadership Series

Photo by Pearl

Hello there! I’m Daniel Yoo, and I’m the young buck here at Conscious Magazine, currently typing this in my college dorm room. I’ve had the good fortune of getting free reign to write a new series on leadership, which this article premieres, called, “Leadership: the Perennial Art.”

With this series, I want to ask the question, “What makes a good leader?” As usual, I like to ask the normative questions. It’s one thing to grasp at what a leader is, but quite another to ask what a good leader ought to be. However, I cannot promise that any one article (or even this entire series!) will answer this question. We may only arrive at an outline of a good leader. We might come to more questions than answers. Whatever the case may be, we will boldly come to a better understanding of what we ought to expect of our leaders, whether in business, in the classroom, in peace, or, heaven forbid, at war.

Topics in this series will vary significantly, including, but not limited to, history, philosophy, current events, anthropology, and the social sciences. Once a month, I will write a piece of my own on a topic on leadership. In addition, a second monthly article will feature the voice of a professional or professor who will grace the series. One of the gems of my college, the University of Richmond, is the Jepson School of Leadership Studies. A multitude of scholars and researchers reside there, so I’m sure I’ll be drawing on their knowledge. Without mistake, this is an ambitious series, and I anticipate looking to my community to support this endeavor.

To give you an example, a piece need not be limited to the “Good Leaders do X, Y, and Z” type. A piece might shed light on problems a leader faces, because collective action is no easy task. Another article may shift our gaze onto the importance of good leaders. If we question why leaders are even important at all, we would be in a position to ask what a good leader looks like. Perhaps we’ll inquire into the lives of Julius Caesar, or Cicero, or Hitler, or Churchill, or Sejong the Great, or Hammurabi. How did they acquire power? What did they do with it? Did they do good by their people with that power, whatever ‘good’ means? We could also touch on the environments of a leader. Are leaders born, made, or both? Is there a ratio of leaders to followers we should aim for, or should we cultivate as many leaders as possible? The questions are endless, but so is history’s fascination with them.

But our series won’t just focus on leaders. Investigating leaders set apart from their followers would be fruitless compared to examining the relationship of the leader-follower dynamic. Married to the study of leadership is the study of followership

We can’t all be leaders all the time, so what happens when we’re at the end of the line, looking to the front for indications of where to go? Should we expect perfect coordination, a Herculean leader who can lasso up the most disjunct crowds, or should we ask for complete freedom to do whatever we’re inclined? The first one doesn’t seem realistic or honest to the phenomenology (the ‘what it’s like’) of everyday life, and the second isn’t very ideal. Aristotle, the ancient Greek thinker, said that diners of a feast are better judges of the meal than the cook in the Politics. The idea is that the best judge of a leader’s merits is the people that he or she leads. Leaders and followers both have something to give and take from one another, so we’ll discuss both throughout this series, even if the primary focus is on leadership.

Be excited, because I am. I think we all have much to gain from inquiring into the problems, triumphs, failures, and solutions in the timeless art that is leadership. Unlike a problem set or a physics problem, there’s no right answer. Exploring leadership will be as much interpretation as identification, and that’s why it’s an art. No one ever approaches a painting and remarks, “That’s wrong.” There are merits and weaknesses to all leaders, all followers, all groups, and our duty as what Michael Sandel calls “encumbered selves” in the collective pot of society is to contemplate, appreciate, and critique them. I hope to learn with you throughout this project, and hopefully, we’ll soon begin to sculpt and chisel away at our evolving conception of leadership.

Stay curious!

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