Saturday, January 08, 2005

Leadership and Heroism

I think I've said before that I dislike the "hero" version of the leader -- the one who comes in, makes some snap decisions and stirring pronouncements... the Hollywood hero. Simplistic solutions that work only on sitcom-level problems. They're great on the screen, but worse than useless in real life.

But a recent article in the Toronto Star, a companion piece to the review of Hotel Rwanda, casts Romeo Dallaire in a similar light. Writer Geoff Pevere says:

No one else was trying to stir us from our O.J. stupor, and no one else seemed to represent the unflinching, if ultimately futile, moral certitude embodied by Dallaire.

Also notable is that, in this attitude-saturated day and age, Dallaire seems almost entirely unburdened by irony. In the book and the film, the soldier, an apparently genuine idealist, sees his military calling as a moral mission.

He sees what happened in Rwanda in stark, uncomplicated terms: a devil's victory.

A lot of the Hollywood-style leaders go wrong when they make all aspects of leadership as simple as the moral simplicity. The trick is to keep that moral simplicity and certainty intact while you use it to navigate through intense and complicated human situations. The simplicity is the easy part; it's the complexity of the actions that it leads to that separate the Hollywood leaders from truly heroic leaders like Romeo Dallaire.

(I'm not sure whether the article is available to non-subscribers to the Star, but the URL is


At 10:39 AM, Blogger Simon said...

I agree Matt. Norman Schwarzkopf defined leadership as "Knowing what the right thing is to do, and doing it." Which sounds great, as long as it's easy to know the right thing to do!

Along the same lines, here's a few words from David in Christchurch, New Zealand, who'll be joining us on the blog soon. This is from an email he sent me:

"...try tracking down "Genghis Khan" by John Mann. It's a great read to remind us that success doesn't happen over night and that making time to have time to make decisions is one of the most valuable leadership tools."

I like that: making time to have time to make decisions.

By the way, did you know Adam posted about Romeo Dallaire a few months back:

At 10:53 AM, Blogger M@ said...

Hi Simon,

I had forgotten that Adam posted on Dallaire -- but he and I did discuss Rwanda off-list once so I would have been surprised if Dallaire had _not_ come up!

However, this was a different take on Dallaire from what I had considered before. I don't usually credit moral certainty with successful leadership -- the most evil leaders in history have had nothing but moral certainty (not to mention, say, the 9/11 terrorists).

The key is maintaining that certainty and using it, instead of losing it, to navigate tricky situations. Ideas like "The West is hurting Islamic culture" do not lead most people to kill thousands of innocents without some extremely twisted logic. There are plenty of intelligent, fiercely pro-Muslim people both here and in the Middle East who agree with that.

Let's hope they rise to become the leaders in the Muslim world. The answer is not putting pro-Western leaders in place, despite some nations' administrations' views to the contrary.


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