In his landmark book Leadership, James MacGregor Burns discusses the question of whether Adolph Hitler was a leader. It’s an interesting question. After all, Hitler’s seizure of power was unprecedented in terms of its swiftness and totality. He successfully marshaled a large army and systematically subjugated his European neighbor’s. And let us never forget he succeeded in the systematic extermination of over six million Jews, a feat that still causes stirrings of admiration within the sick mind of today’s Neo-Nazi’s. But does Hitler rightfully lay claim to the designation leader?
No, says Burns. Hitler was not a leader. He was a tyrant.
That summation by the eminent Burns suggests to me that notoriety and the accomplishment of significant and profound aims does not necessarily render one a leader. Significant and profound does not always equate to virtue, and Burns seems to see a component of virtue embedded in leadership.
I would concur. Thus, the killing of Osama bin Laden last night by U.S. Special Forces is a wonderful step in ridding the world of anarchy (the antithesis of leadership.)
Killing bin Laden was itself an act of leadership. And as counterintuitive as this may sound, it was also an act of virtue.