Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Imperfect Leader - Charlie Brown

Do any of you remember the days when the newspaper would arrive in the mornings and the first section that you would grab was the Comics? At least this was the case for me. Reading short sentences that were supported by cartoon drawing always caught my attention. Skimming through the likes of Marmaduke, Family Circus, Beetle Bailey, and Garfield allowed me to escape from reality and jump into my youthful imagination. In addition, there was one comic in particular that I always saved for last... and that was Peanuts. I fell in love with Charles Schultz’s wide variety of characters and it seemed that there was always a “theme” I could attach myself to on a daily basis. Along with that, the leader of the Peanut Gang, Charlie Brown, always fascinated me because of the lackluster attributes that he showcased.

As we have learned over that first month of class, there are many different theories and theorist who try to put leadership in a certain context. The one that I want to focus on with Charlie Brown is the concept that leaders emerge due to their physical and mental attributes. Before we get started analyzing Charlie through these parameters, I believe that we should first get to know his characteristics. This will open the door for the leadership concepts that Kirkpatrick, De Pree, and Heifitz present.

Many of you may know that Charlie Brown is almost the complete opposite of a physically or mentally appealing leader. The young boy is timid, socially awkward, unathletic, disgruntled, nervous, to just name a few. In short, this fellow is quite the lovable loser… he fails at everything, yet he always gives 110%. From losing every game he pitches to falling for Lucy’s football-kick trick, he simply can not win. Comparing these attributes to those that Kirkpatrick describes, one should believe that Charlie Brown will never be considered a leader. In the article, Leadership: Do Traits Matter, Kirkpatrick (1991) states that “leaders are achievement-oriented, ambitious, energetic, proactive, and tenacious” (pg. 136). None of these describe our lovable loser at all.

Yet for some reason, the Peanut gang always seemed to look to him whenever guidance was needed. Why is this? The rationale behind this, in my opinion, is hidden behind the cloud of negative attributes I just described. After weaving through those negatives, one should notice that Charlie Brown is quite an astounding leader. The perseverance that he shows through adversity is second to none. When the whole Peanut gang sees a lost cause, Charlie sees hope. For example, in the hit Charlie Brown Christmas movie, he moved the thoughts of the Gang toward the real reason for Christmas rather than letting them go on with their commercialized conceptions. As Heifitz (1998) stated in Values of Leadership, leadership is about mobilizing individuals to tackle tough problems. This is exactly what Charlie did and will always do… he will go towards the “good” every time. Hence, Charlie Brown follows Heifitz’s theory and tries to “absorb the stress for his followers” (pg. 17).

All in all, I believe it is important to observe an oddball like Charlie Brown in this context due to the fact that he does not fit the normal mold of a leader. It shows that one does not have to necessarily have outstanding attributes, but more of a guiding model through ones actions. The integrity, which De Pree (1992) calls the “linchpin of leadership”, will override the negative attributes and create the possibility for leadership. Charlie Brown never asked or probably never wanted to be the leader of the Peanut gang, but it is certain that the willingness to succeed was always there no matter how many times he failed. Thus, I leave you with a statement by Charlie Brown that epitomizes this post perfectly, “There must be millions of people in the world that never get love letters… I could be their leader”.

Just to spark some comments, what do you think of Charlie Brown? Could he lead in today’s world?

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