Throughout history, when one wants to understand great leaders of the past or those whose work has yielded great strides in a field of work or aspect of the human condition, that leader’s character and traits are first examined (Burns, 2013, p. 9). Contrasting this view is the idea that leaders are a product of situational factors, rather than solely through their character traits (Burns, 2013, p. 9). Giving credence to the validity of both views, Burns asserts both are valuable and can work concurrently. He further posits that human beings naturally seek to emulate the heroes seen in movies, television, books, and history; to embody the charismatic or influential of times gone by (Burns, 2013, p. 9). Each desires to formulate a new chapter in history and take on new feats, cementing their status as a conqueror or hero, and set themselves apart from the rest of society while creating necessary and valuable social change (Burns, 2013, p. 10-11).
In the field of Psychology, the desire to be set apart and admired or appreciated could best be summed up in the theory of Humanism or Person-Centered Therapy: every human being is seen to have value, worth, and potential (Corey, 2009). The basic human need to know and be known, and to be found worthwhile and valuable to those around us, is highlighted and proliferated (Corey, 2009). Psychologists seek to establish congruence or genuineness and authenticity within clients, as they seek to understand who they are on a deeper and more accepting level (Corey, 2009). Therapists also foster this self-acceptance through accurate empathic understanding, demonstrating their own solidarity and empathy for what their clients aspire to and struggle with in life (Corey, 2009). In all a client’s decisions, values, beliefs, strengths, and weaknesses, humanistic psychologists practice unconditional positive regard to allow clients to feel accepted for who they are at their core and how they view, interpret, and interact with their world (Corey, 2009). Thus, the human tendency and desire to be set apart from others, recognized and validated, for one’s uniqueness and traits, aligns with the understanding of human nature and its potential within the Humanistic Psychological viewpoint.
In my current leadership practice, I seek, above all else, to encourage others to be authentic and genuine in all areas of life and give encouragement to accept themselves for all they are – strengths, weaknesses, quirks, values, beliefs, etc. In my emulation of what it means to be a Christ-follower, I want to give others comfort and unconditional acceptance in the way God graciously and mercifully deals with me. In an age of portraying the most flattering aspects of ourselves for the world to see on social media, we should begin to acknowledge every part of who we are, and forgo comparing ourselves too harshly with someone else, so much so that we lose sight of our own gifts. If we want to create real, lasting social change, influence, and lead others to a more meaningful life, we must first acknowledge our own humanness and all that comes with it. In light of Burns’ focus on trait-based leadership, then, I want to encourage and accept others’ own valuable traits and gifts, and my own and guide those around me to do the same.
According to The World is Not Ours to Save, the view of the solitary and individualistic hero – the lone wolf who saves the day and receives all the glory, becomes a problematic aspiration to many within the Christian faith (Wigg-Stevenson, 2014, loc. 358-360). Many flock to the main character, protagonist, and hero of Biblical narratives focusing on what their character traits were, in the endeavor to emulate them and become the protagonist of their own story (Wigg-Stevenson, 2014, loc. 326-331). In searching for someone to emulate, we lose our own ability to see the value and potential in who we are now and who we were created to be. We fail to remember that the ultimate hero of our narrative will always be Christ, through His death on the cross to become the redeemer of all of humanity, and a position we could never hope to fill (Wigg-Stevenson, 2014, loc. 340). Aspiring to be like another is not hopelessly fraught with misinterpretation or spiritual immaturity. However, while we seek to become more Christ-like every day, we cannot fail to forget how valuable our own gifts and strengths are to the body of Christ in where we are now and where we are going, in relation to God’s plan (Wigg-Stevenson, 2014, loc. 298-300).
Burns, J. M. (2003). Transforming leadership: A new pursuit of happiness (Vol. 213). Grove Press.
Corey, G. (2009). Theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy (10th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole Pub. Co.
Wigg-Stevenson, T. (2012). The world is not ours to save: Finding the freedom to do good. InterVarsity Press.