Thursday, September 22, 2011

What Makes a Good Leader?

I've been thinking a lot lately about leaders as portrayed in literature and film. This has brought me to the realization that some of my favorite characters are those in leadership roles. When a character is responsible for the well-being of others, it brings so many elements of drama and tension into the story. Everything has a greater cost and that can emerge in fascinating ways.

One of my all time favorite characters is Mal Reynolds from the short-lived television show "Firefly" and film "Serenity". He's prickly, scarred and sometimes unapproachable. He's gotten used to being in charge and the fact that leaders are responsible for making the choices others might find unbearable. Yet, he's also the one cracking jokes and keeping people's spirits up when things go wrong (as they inevitably do). He has faith in the people he's chosen to surround himself with.

Another example is from Nova Suma's latest novel "Imaginary Girls".

Ruby's an enigmatic character who is often hard to relate to. She seems to have the whole world in her hands, but it isn't until late in the story that we find out there's a weight to such gifts. She's an interesting example of a leader, because in so many ways, she's still just a carefree child. Watching her balance those two sides of her personality is an interesting experience, an example of what can happen when a child leads.

Leaders have to be well-developed. There's something about the act of leading that forces dimension onto characters. The same might be said for people (the ones who aren't written, but actually breathe).

Leadership can be toxic, or it can be healthy. It can be held tightly in the fist, or in a laissez-faire style. It can be chosen, or bestowed. There are those who think of leadership and see only power, without acknowledging the self-sacrifice required to be effective, the long and thankless task before all those in charge.

A quote on leadership from Nelson Mandela: "It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership."

Publilius Syrus: "Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm."

What about you? What have you found to be the most striking examples of leadership in fiction? Or, film and television?


  1. Wow, really good question. To me, a leader is someone with vision and courage, someone who inspires people. Someone like William Wallace in Braveheart.

  2. Mal had me at the tight pants. Yes, I am on occasion, just that shallow.

  3. I can't think of any leaders off the top of my head (though I'm sure I'll remember someone once I post this comment) but great points. Especially the contrast between some leaders and others.

  4. If the whole comments section becomes dedicated to the idea of Nathan Fillion in tight pants, I'd like to go on record as saying, "I'm okay with that."

  5. Ruby's character was really well done. Great example of the dual issues that leaders have to deal with.

  6. Whee, yes! I love Mal too; FIREFLY was such a great show. :) I haven't read IMAGINARY GIRLS yet but boy, I adore that cover!