Countless leadership authors encourage leaders to be inspiring, visionary, and brave. Followers are attracted to these powerful and charismatic leaders like moths to a flame. That is hardly surprising: Who can, after all, resist a hero?
Interestingly, the image of a leader painted by these authors seems to lack common human emotions. Nowhere do I see fear, reluctance to lead, or insecurity. The leader knows he was born to lead. The leader knows she will be followed.
Or does she?
Enters Katniss Aberdeen, the heroin of the Hunger Games series. Katniss had no intention to lead. As she told President Snow in a moving scene from Mockingjay: "I only wanted to save my sister and keep Peeta alive" (if you know nothing about the Hunger Games Trilogy, you may catch up in this brief summary).
So why then does Katniss lead? As I reflected on the answer, I came across three clips. In the first, we hear about the origins of the "Mockingjay" (a mutant bird who imitates human sounds, a symbolic pin Katniss wore early in the series for protection).
The second clip requires an introduction, especially if you are not familiar with Suzanne Collins' books. When the leaders of District 13 ask Katniss to help inspire the revolutionaries, they plan a series of propaganda clips (called "propos"). Katniss tries to recite inspiring words written by someone else. The result is a total disaster, as fake and empty as the set. Watch as Katniss' friend and mentor, Haymitch Abernathy, explains the problem.
Finally, Katniss is allowed to go to the front lines. She talks to the revolutionaries, witnesses their pain first hand. Fueled by anger and passion, she delivers an inspiring and game changing speech, warning President Snow: "If we burn, you burn with us!" (watch the final official trailer, with a brief clip of this speech).
The story of Katniss is not one of charisma or vision. Instead, Katniss becomes a leader through a powerful combination of survival and protective instincts, passion, and, above all, authenticity. Katniss can only be a leader when she is allowed to be real.
Perhaps most of these leadership books have it wrong. One can't really "learn to be a leader." Leaders are as different as the people who follow them or the causes for which they fight. Instead, we should focus on helping leaders find their core. Their passion. Their cause. Their personal Mockingjay.
What is yours?
About the Author
Dr. Cris Wildermuth is an Assistant Professor at Drake University, where she coordinates and teaches at the Master of Science in Leadership Development.