A cause is the raison d’etre of leadership–it answers the question, “Why do we need a leader, why this leader?”Great leaders are associated with particular causes on which they focus fully. The resolution of that cause becomes an all-consuming goal for them and their followers. The more humanistic the cause, the broader its appeal. In a way, the cause itself ultimately defines the leader.George Washington and the other founding fathers of America made their cause the liberation of America from the colonial grip of Britain.Abraham Lincoln, after a frustrating first year in office, found a twofold-cause: the abolition of slavery through the Emancipation Proclamation, and the simultaneous cause of holding the Union together through the Civil War.Mahatma Gandhi made it his cause to liberate India from the ravages of English colonialism through non-violent means.Nelson Mandela’s cause was getting rid of apartheid.Martin Luther King’s struggle was against racism and the Jim Crow South.This brings us to the question: What is Barack Obama’s cause? The sooner he finds it and declares it, the better it is for him and for all of us.But the most important question is one that each of us has to ask of ourselves: What is my cause?
Leaders–whether unconsciously or self-consciously–become associated with brands. In fact, it is more right to say, they become brands themselves. Watch the video below of Dr. King’s “I have a Dream” speech. Notice the headgear of all the people around MLK. They’re called “Gandhi caps” after Mahatma Gandhi, who started to wear the cloth cap–a traditional headgear in rural India–to express a political view. The Gandhi cap became symbolic of non-violent resistance all over the world. Gandhi embraced visual branding strongly–through his loin cloth, his round eye glasses, and of course, his long walking stick. After all, he went to meet the King and Queen of England dressed in the same fashion.To quote from the Nov 16, 1931 issue of Time:
The same frayed sandals that carried St. Gandhi on his illegal salt march through India 19 months ago carried him last week up the crimson-carpeted stair of Buckingham Palace. Flunkies in scarlet & gold bowed the small, unrepentant lawbreaker into the Picture Gallery. There at the head of the receiving line stood George V in striped trousers and morning coat, Queen Mary in a shimmering silver tea gown and Edward of Wales (who had flown down especially from Liverpool) dressed like his father. The Lord Chamberlain, the Earl of Cromer, advanced through a horde of 500 tea guests, some of them Maharajas wearing pearls as big as butterballs.
MLK, on the other hand, developed his brand through rhetoric–like the “I have a dream” speech below.
Leila Chirayath Janah, Founder & CEO of Samasource provides an excellent illustration of communicative leadership intelligence in action.