I am almost done with the fall semester of school. Now, I hope I can focus more on my writing. I bought three books on creative writing this week so I am ready to go! But I didn’t mention this to get off-topic. I mention it because, once again, I have not had time to prepare a proper blog post for this Saturday. What I do have is some notes I took for a report in my management class for school. What does management have to do with fantasy writing? Stay with me a moment…
My management report was on management leadership. What I found when I was writing this report is that management leadership is a lot like leadership in other fields such as military and political. I’m not talking about just simple management or ordinary leaders. I’m talking about those rare people who inspire followers, those rare charismatic leaders that encourage change.
Many different kinds of people can be a manager just like many kinds of people can be appointed as military leaders. But not anyone can truly lead. So what are the traits of a real leader and how does this information help fiction writers? I am going to answer the first half of the question first using the notes from my report.
Most leaders have a strong desire to achieve something. There is something emotional that drives them to their goal. Perhaps that emotion is personal ambition or perhaps it is a determination to right a wrong. But this personal ambition can’t be strictly a selfish one. To be a leader, one must have followers. This means that the leader also has qualities to inspire other people towards the same goal.
Two strong traits that many famous leaders throughout history have had are self-confidence and honesty. When I say honesty, though, I don’t mean honesty with everyone. We all know some imposing leaders who have done terrible things. The honesty I am talking about is the honesty “perceived” by the followers. Take Alexander the Great, for one. Born into his leadership role or not, he would not have had the eager conquering military followers that he did if they had not trusted him to bring them glory and/or riches. In school my report, I also mentioned Hitler. I hate what he did, but he seems to fit the requirements of a true leader. While he did dominate many into following his regime, he also had true followers – others who believed as he did and trusted Hitler to make their ideals a reality.
Obviously, a leader must have expertise in their corresponding field. Managers have to know the industry of the company they work for while military leaders have to know not just military arts but also have some idea of the political environment, strategic maneuvers, their enemy, the landscape terrain, etc. They also have to know their people. A good leader knows the strengths and weaknesses of his men and utilizes them accordingly. He generally has people skills which means he doesn’t sit in his tent and give orders through his immediate subordinates. He probably goes out among his men and socializes with them. He probably asks if they have any grievances and genuinely works to resolve them. A good kingly leader will likely do the same.
That is not to say that a leader must be everyone’s friend. A leader can take advice of their subordinates but makes their own decisions and is confident about their decisions. This is where the previously mentioned self-confidence trait comes in. If one does not have self-confidence, one tends to doubt themselves and their intentions. While a leader may have these feelings from time to time, especially when the adversity is at its peak, but ultimately a leader knows what he wants to achieve and has the self-confidence to see it through.
Now that you know some strong leadership traits, perhaps you can see how this information can help you as a writer. You now have information to help you in the character building of your hero. Your hero can work alone but a hero may also have followers. And if he or she does have followers, then your hero is going to need to have certain traits. No one is going to really follow a hero who can’t make up his mind on what he wants to achieve, or a hero who has no skills whatsoever. Even if your hero is a military leader but can’t fight with a sword or ride a horse, there has to be something he excels at. Perhaps he is gifted with magic. Or perhaps he is an excellent strategist.
You can even use this information to write an evil leader. Sure you can have an evil leader that rules by force. But to be even more effective, that evil leader should also have true followers. When I think of an evil leader in fiction writing, I think of Jagang in the Sword of Truth series. He had a lot of real followers, people who really believed in his sick ideals, people who looked up to him like a god and not a dictator. The way Terry Goodkind wrote this evil leader made the hero Richard’s task all the more daunting, and therefore, all the more triumphant when he won.
So here is a breakdown of my notes, most of which came from a book called “The Essence of Leadership” by Edwin A. Locke:
– ambition, desire, drive, energy
– socialized power – power used to benefit everyone in the group, not just the leader
– self confidence
– sometimes charisma, flexibility, and/or creativity
– knowledge of their particular field such as military
– people skills
– an ultimate goal or aspiration
There is more to it than that, but if I make this post much longer you will fall asleep. 🙂 Does your story have a leader? If so, does he or she have most of these traits? What other traits do they have that make others want to follow them?