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What Makes A Leader?


Mark Johnson, Concordia International School - Shanghai: I think it’s important to study leadership because history is not just a dry collection of names and dates that we recite on some multiple choice test.

Douglas Bradburn, P.h.D., Founding Director, The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at George Washington’s Mount Vernon: I think emphasizing leadership really helps human beings understand that they can have an impact on the world around them.

Cathy Gorn, P.h.D., Executive Director, National History Day: A leader has to pick and choose, they have to look at all the angles, look at the different perspectives, and then make a decision that may not always be popular.

Lynne O’Hara, Director of Programs, National History Day: Leaders need to see beyond their own time and circumstance.

Cathy Gorn: What did they feel needed to change in society and how would they go about producing that change?

[On-Screen Transition: Articulating a vision]

Douglas Bradburn: The characteristic of leadership that’s essential to all great leaders is the ability to articulate a vision. To bring people along requires you to actually believe that you should go somewhere.

Voice 1: A great leader has the potential to see into the future - to know this is where I want to move this group of people.

Amie Dryer, Teacher, Calvert High School: If they have no vision, if they have no goal, what kind of a leader would they be?

[On-Screen Transition: Motivating others]

Mark Johnson: It’s not enough to to have a vision, you need to motivate others to follow that vision.

Douglas Bradburn: It’s all about motivation. It’s all about getting people to believe they can do something that oftentimes reason says can’t be done.

Kenneth E. Behring, Sponsor, National History Day: No leader can do too much by himself. So the group of followers that he has, they can give him direction. That’s the right direction.

Micah Azzano, Director of Public Affairs, National History Day: It’s also being able to create those interpersonal relationships with people and make the people feel comfortable and confident in their leaders.

[On-Screen Transition: Making effective decisions]

Voice 1: I’ve always been adamant about letting students realize that sometimes you learn a lot more by making a mistake than you do by always making the right decisions.

Kenneth E. Behring: A leader doesn’t mind being wrong. If he’s wrong, he’ll drop it and start over and do something different.

Lynne O’Hara: Most of the time decisions are made with shades of gray. They’re made with imperfect, incomplete information. And that’s the challenge of being a leader: it’s making the best decision you have with the best information that’s available to you.

[On-Screen Transition: Willingness to confront tough issues]

Douglas Bradburn: Leadership requires overcoming adversity and overcoming, uh, challenges. You need to be able to confront those and manage expectations and move people through them.

Amie Dryer: If you don’t adapt as a leader, you’re not going to be a leader very long. There’s so many things that can change during a period in history that you’re going to need to have flexibility, you’re going to need to have resilience and self-reflection.

[On-Screen Transition: Impacting history]

Mark Johnson: And then we also need to look at, uh, their lasting legacy. How successful were they?

Kenneth E. Behring: A leader has to leave something behind; sometimes its good, and sometimes its bad.

Cathy Gorn: We want young people to think carefully about the impact and the consequences of what leaders have done in the past.

Lynne O’Hara: It’s not who you were, but it’s why you are remembered. What you did and how you impacted others.

Mark Johnson: Can you be an effective leader but not a moral leader? Of course. Can you be a moral leader and also get things done? Hopefully.

Cathy Gorn: The study of the past that teaches us so much about who we are right now and where we are going to be in the future.

Kenneth E. Behring: We need leaders to work with young people. We need young people to have a mission in life.

Douglas Bradburn: People in in positions of leadership matter. The choices they make matter. Their ability to get things done is important. So, it’s a crucial way that human beings to understand their impact.

[On-Screen Transition: What do you think makes a leader?]