Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.
– William Shakespeare
“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”
– Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
I’ve always enjoyed the “reluctant heroes” and “reluctant leaders” of literature and film, and real life – the people who don’t really seek to be heroes or leaders; who don’t really want to risk their lives; who have some concept of what might happen to them if they step forward and do the right thing, and sigh and take a deep breath, and do it anyway. These aren’t the people who are seeking the limelight. They aren’t looking for glory. They don’t want medals and awards and accolades and power. They’re doing the right thing in spite of their trepidation. They’re doing the right thing simply because they don’t have it in them to NOT try to save someone else’s life, or rescue the puppy, or stand up for what is right and fair, or to lead when there is a need. They are, in my mind, the best kinds of heroes and leaders.
In literature, one of my favorite “reluctant heroes” is Frodo Baggins. Frodo clearly does not want the responsibility of The Ring. He’d much rather have given that responsibility to someone else, and gone home to his quiet life in the Shire. But he realizes that he’s the only one equipped – mentally and emotionally – to take on the responsibility. He’s the only one humble enough. In short, his very reluctance to be the hero is exactly why he’s the best one fit to BE the hero.
In “Are You a Reluctant Leader?” Walt Grassle writes: “…often, reluctant leaders are the best leaders. They lead from a desire to serve, not a desire for power.” And in “The Reluctant Leader” Lainie Heneghan writes: “Adaptability, humility, a capacity to bring others along in their efforts, and a plain old willingness to listen are defining qualities of reluctant leaders.”
In thinking about reluctant leadership, the death of one of my dad’s climbing friends in an avalanche on Mount Rainier comes to mind. Dad’s friend, Willy, had been leading a group of climbers from Evergreen State College up Mount Rainier when an avalanche struck the team. Willy and another climber were buried under the avalanche. The other team members were able to uncover the snow from the two victims’ bodies, and tried to resuscitate them, but without success. The team’s leader, Willy, was gone, and the remaining members were in a perilous situation – exhausted, traumatized, and in shock. It was then, according to Dad, that Ian, one of the student-members of the climbing team, stepped forward and assumed leadership. As I understand it, this student had been one of the quieter members of the team until that moment – a strong climber who had earlier helped Willy scout out the route to the summit – but not someone who had sought attention for himself. I’m sure that Iain would rather not have been in a situation where he had to assume leadership. But, as Dad tells it, Ian was an observer and he’d seen there was a need – recognized that someone needed to step forward and give direction to the team – and he had done what he knew needed to be done to get the surviving members of the team safely off the mountain.
I’m guessing the world is full or reluctant heroes and leaders – people quietly making the lives of other people better; people stepping up to the plate when a leader is needed, or a hero; people who recognize that in their neighborhood, or workplace, or political organization they are the ones best equipped to create a positive atmosphere or lead in a positive direction – and then quietly go about doing so. Without fanfare. Without hope of recognition or credit. Just because it’s the right thing to do.
“But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant…” – Matthew 20: 25-27
Walt Grassle’s article: http://researchcareersblog.com/2014/12/08/are-you-a-reluctant-leader/#sthash.ifYrR64X.dpbs
Lainie Heneghan’s article: http://www.jmw.com/assets/JMW_Reluctant_Leader.pdf
Photo of cannon at Fort Ticonderoga, NY (Karen Molenaar Terrell)