What makes a leader? Generally, the answer is “charisma,” defined by Merriam-Webster as “a personal magic of leadership arousing special popular loyalty or enthusiasm for a public figure.” Charisma is the most rare quality found in human souls and also the most admired. Society worships leaders; one, even two years before the presidential elected, the American press scrutinizes every candidate’s move, and the one man who triumphs over the rest ultimately becomes the most harried and tired of them all. The most capable and deserving leaders, among them Washington, Lincoln, and the Roosevelts, are forever enshrined in American hearts and sometimes monuments in Washington, D.C. The rest are relegated to the footnotes of history and the eternal ridicule of high school nerds.
What makes charisma? I feel it is best broken down into two parts – the ability to give men a vision and the ability to take them to it. It is poetry and pragmatism, competence and vision. Each leader is imbued with varying quantities of each. General Chamberlain of Gettysburg and The Killer Angels did not strike me as a particularly confident or experienced field commander, but he painted a beautiful vision of freedom and purpose that inspired even the most hardened deserters to follow him. The titular hero of Patton is the opposite; he used no flowery words and tossed idealism to the dogs, but he was an extraordinarily confident and capable general, and I or any other man would gladly follow him into battle in a heartbeat.
The best leader of all the ones we watched, however, was a combination of both. He was a man of skill and strategic brilliance, but also of passion and vision; he was the Scottish rebel William Wallace as depicted in the movie Braveheart. The least inspiring leader, in my opinion, was the American commander in Revolution. He used a style similar to the British general, but it was completely inconsistent with the type of leadership needed by his men; in the end, the American leader was ignored by his retreating troops. My response to these leaders reflects my admiration for a balanced leader, a man who can give me a goal and then help me to achieve it.
William Wallace inspired respect the moment he stepped onto the battlefield. In the movie clip we watched, he arrived just as the Scottish men were deserting; it would have been too late for other leaders, but not for him. He almost immediately rekindled Scottish passions with a stirring speech about freedom and a vivid picture of their lives after the battle. He propelled the Scots to a great victory over a grossly superior opponent, the English.
This speech would have meant little to nothing, however, if Wallace was not also a brilliant general. As soon as the Scots heard his introduction and believed he was truly the legendary William Wallace, they respected him. He had led many other armies to victory, and the men believed he could also lead theirs. He proved his military prowess in the battle, employing creative and highly effective techniques to defeat the English army in this battle and, after his death, the war.
William Wallace was a man of poetry and pragmatism, my favorite general of those presented. My least favorite generals were the leaders of Revolution, particularly the American. They employed subtle, quiet messages to their troops before leading them into absurd, inefficient battles; this technique was successful for the hardened British, who were disciplined enough to lead themselves into battle, but quite ineffective for the Americans who deserted their commander. I did not like it much at all.
Leadership is difficult. It requires the ability to inspire men and to impress them, to paint a picture for a man and then help him make it reality. I admire the leaders with the best balance of these qualities. Thus, my least favorite generals of the clips were those of Revolution and my favorite was the rebel and emancipator of Scotland, William Wallace.