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The true leader

As children we played the game ''Follow the Leader,'' and in one way or another we have all been playing the same game ever since. In earliest childhood one can see the character traits and the personality that make one young person a natural leader in his group. Watching indolently the denizens of a park playground recently, it amused me to see how, out of the melee of small children , all alike encased in their orange snowsuits, one or two presently emerged as pacesetters. What they did, others imitated; where they went, others followed. There could be rivals for the mastery, but the greater number seemed happy to assent to their place in the crowd of passive supporters.

In later life, I wondered, will these same gifts of leadership prevail? Perhaps the child who is now so irresistibly self-confident, so apt and humorous with a thousand innovations, will be blighted by misfortune or simply sink into the rank of followers. Another may emerge with an imperious will and a daring imagination. We cannot predict these things nor always know the cause of them. But we cannot doubt that some in every group and in every generation will be leaders.

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Within a democratic political system I have learned the habit of looking for the man who may prove truly a leader. This is a somewhat different test from that ordinarily applied by our political pundits. They ask whether a man or woman has had experience, whether he or she is a good administrator, whether they have a feel for the job to be undertaken. All these qualifications - or lack of them - may be important. But nothing counts so much in the long run, I suggest, as the capacity of one or another to get out where the wider views may be seen and where the message is set forth in such a way as to make others eager to walk in their tracks.

What makes a leader is as difficult to define in the real world as it is in childhood's kingdom of play. Sometimes a trick of speech or look, a happy style of carriage, may be enough to set one man apart and to give him power over his fellows. More often the gift is of a more substantial kind. It involves character slowly formed, vision tested in lonely hours, strength cultivated under adversity. The great crowd senses something out of the ordinary in such a one, and half unwillingly yields its allegiance. Later the crowd may turn away, reluctant to admit that another human being can be superior in virtue to itself. It may fear the hero as at other times it fears evil or the dark.

One thing we can be sure of, the leader will not of necessity - nor indeed often - be the one with the loudest voice or the most flamboyant gesture. He will not constantly be on the battlefront urging his followers on. Every man who has made a deep impression on his fellow-beings has had moments of withdrawal, seasons alone in the wilderness. His followers have come close to disillusionment or despair, wondering what has happened to the voice on which they had counted for a wisdom deeper than their own. Only then did the leader reemerge upon the stage, his old magic potent and intact.

One may question, of course, whether the leader is going in the best direction. It is important, Winston Churchill once declared, that men should be honest; but it is also important that, sometimes, they should be right. So with the best of leaders; we do not want them leading us off on a wild goose chase or after false gods! But if there be two men of equal intelligence, each possessing such cardinal merits as honesty and courage, give me for my chief the one who makes me eager to follow. Let me enlist in his cause and I shall serve him faithfully to the end.

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