Analysis of Deresiewicz’s ideas about leadership

The points made by William Deresiewicz in the article Solitude and Leadership were both relatable and concerning.  This article, taken from a speech given to West Pointe students, attacked traditional leadership roles and promoted the use of solitude in procuring ideas that truly were unique to each individual.  Though his explanation of the merits of alone-time were intriguing to me, I was especially taken by his analysis of leadership and the people who are deemed leaders in America.

Throughout his description of leadership in our nation, Deresiewicz utilizes the assumption that leadership is a goal that all want to attain and that major universities strive to teach their students.  I do not believe that leadership is a characteristic that is essential to succeeding in life.  Some careers value followers, rather than leaders.  It is silly to expect (or hope) that everyone will adopt leadership characteristics because in that case there would be no one to lead.  Does that leave all of the less intelligent people to become followers?  I think that if Deresiewicz had begun his speech by outlining the merits of leadership, he could have been much more persuasive.

That being said, I do agree with many of the points that Deresiewicz makes about the leadership crisis in America.  Because Americans value conformity, though one would be hard pressed to find an American who blatantly articulated this, people who “keep the routine going” achieve the highest status.  Isn’t that precisely what a follower does?  Because many large corporations, our government, and even some family dynamics utilize this pro-conformity stance, the heads of our society are people who do not push the envelope.  This is highly concerning; especially when the nation is at war where extremely important decisions are being made.  If all of our leaders are actually just good followers, where does that leave our society?

Deresiewicz urges the audience to not be afraid to “show courage” and stand up to their superiors.  Though this does sound like an effective idea, and the example of General Petraeus does demonstrate his point (subsequent sex scandal aside), it does not seem feasible to preach this idea to a group of freshman at a military school.  When they are in the army and they disobeyed an order that they didn’t agree with, would it be handled with positivity or with a dismissal?  If a student tells his teacher that he disagrees with the way she runs the classroom, that student is more likely to end up in the principal’s office than to become the teacher’s pet.  I think that what Deresiewicz says is logical, but not practical.  Yes, true leadership is the ability to act on your convictions.  Is that always possible?  No.