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The following article was written by Coleman Patterson and appeared in the Business section of the Abilene Reporter-News.

True leaders are visionary, sacrificial, December 30, 2007, 2D.

Braveheart, Mel Gibson’s 1995 movie about the Scottish freedom fighter William Wallace, is a great case study in leadership.  Through inspirational acts and appeals, persuasive communication, vision setting, personal example, risk taking and self-sacrifice, Wallace rallies his countrymen to fight and defeat the English in battle.  The contrasts of Wallace’s character to those of King Edward I (Longshanks), the noblemen, and Robert the Bruce and his father provide additional insight into the dynamics of true leadership.  

Whereas Longshanks ordered his troops into battle and oversaw the fighting from the safety of a distant hilltop, Wallace personally led the charge into battle and fought alongside the men who believed in and followed him.  Whereas Robert the Bruce and his noblemen were tempted by Longshanks’ offers of land and titles, Wallace wanted nothing but freedom for his people.  And whereas self-interest, power, and political maneuvering drove the actions of the noblemen, Wallace’s motives were portrayed as pure and selfless—for the benefits of his people and future generations of Scotsmen.

Toward the end of movie, Robert the Bruce finally grasped the true meaning of leadership.  In anguish, he told his father, “Men fight for me because if they do not, I throw them off my land and I starve their wives and children. Those men who bled the ground red at Falkirk fought for William Wallace.”  The film ends with Robert the Bruce taking up the cause of William Wallace and leading his men into battle against the English.

Leadership is a common word that is used in all types of organizations.   Although it is commonly used, it is less commonly practiced.  How many people can say that they have worked with people who could be called visionary, inspirational, and self-sacrificing?  How many “leaders” have you worked with that possesses pure and unalterable motives and really look out for the needs and interests of others?  In what circumstances have you encountered such leaders?

Richard Couto, in his writings on Citizen Leadership, argued that our society is filled with leaders of extraordinary quality who work out of the public spotlight in the service of societal needs and ills.  Citizen leaders, as Couto called them, rally and mobilize others to remedy needs in their communities without receiving the usual types of honor and reward that are desired by those in paid positions in for-profit organizations.  Citizen leaders put their causes ahead of themselves and work relentlessly to enlist others to join the cause and then mobilize their efforts and public sentiment toward remedying the problem—sometimes at great personal cost.

The core ideas of leadership that are evident in Citizen Leadership are equally important in for-profit organizations.  Today’s business world is in desperate need of leaders—the popular and professional management literature says so.  Like Robert the Bruce, managers and executives must realize that people rally around leaders and the visions and causes that they espouse and if they only rely upon position and authority to get workers to perform, they will not be viewed as leaders.

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2006, 2007, 2008  Coleman Patterson, All Rights Reserved