"For months now, I’ve tried to think of what I can contribute to the leadership blog. What do I have to say that’s relevant, interesting, and entertaining on the topic of leadership? They say you should write what you know, and I’m something of a pop culture junkie, especially geek culture. We are what we are. As such, I’ve decided to write a series of entries that look at notable leaders from pop culture and examine just why they make good leaders. There’s no one “best” way to lead, but it is my hope that through looking at these characters, we can gain insight into some of the qualities that contribute to good, or even great leadership.
So, to whom should the first entry be dedicated? After much though, I decided to award yet another “first” to a character with several. Ladies and gentlemen, today we’re going to look at the character of Storm from the X-Men. Not the boring, misplayed Storm from the X-Men films (sorry Halle, you’re a great actress, but this was not a gem of a role for you), but the Storm from the comic books and 90’s cartoon. Storm, for those not familiar, was introduced in the 70’s, a mutant superhero with the ability to control the weather. Raised in Africa and worshipped as a goddess, Storm arrived on the scene at a time when Black comic heroes were extremely rare, and female characters were largely relegated to supporting roles. She changed the face of comics by becoming not just a major character, but the leader of her team. But why was she fit to lead? What qualities did Storm possess that gave her the iconic place in the history of superheroes that she holds?
Leaders possess strength. In this case, I’m not talking about Storm’s weather powers, which are largely irrelevant to the remainder of this blog entry. I’m talking about inner strength, strength of will. Within the Marvel Universe, Storm is known, even amongst other superheroes, for her iron, indomitable will. Even such heavy-hitters as Dr. Doom and Count Dracula himself have been impressed by her unassailable confidence, even in the face of mortal danger and total uncertainty. Now, leaders are, of course, human. We all get pushed to the breaking point sometimes, but leaders know that they are setting an example for those who follow them. We cannot buckle, because there are people counting on us.
We get stronger from experience, of course. Leaders have to embrace their pasts and their experience, even if unpleasant. Storm spent time as an orphan in Cairo picking pockets for a crime boss (secretly a supervillain… hey, it’s comics, folks). At times when super powers were no help, she has been able to draw on her experience as a thief and use the wisdom and skills gleaned from that questionable time to achieve her goals. So it is with more mundane leaders. Sometimes we have to look back into our pasts and draw from the most unlikely or painful places in order to proceed forward. Great leaders are open to this process, drawing strength from their challenges, instead of being trapped by them.
Leaders frequently must face their fears. Being in charge is scary. And when fearful and stressful times arise, people look to leaders for guidance. Storm suffers from claustrophobia, traumatized by a building collapse in her childhood. Yet, when she needed to enter the sewers of New York City to save her teammate, she faced her fears and entered, going so far as to do battle for leadership of the Morlocks, a group of mutants living in the tunnels beneath the city. Not because she wanted to, solely because she had to. And, as a great leader, she faced her worst fear to do so.
Finally, leaders lead by values. If leadership meant solely doing whatever it takes to achieve goals, some of the worst monsters of history and fiction would be “great” leaders. But truly great leaders live by a code. They know when there are more important factors than just completing the mission. Storm, as an example, has sworn to herself to not take lives. The power of the entire atmosphere at her disposal, and she won’t kill (OK, one exception when she THOUGHT she did, but that character turned out to have a 2nd heart… again, hey, it’s comics). It’s not so much WHAT the code a leader lives by says (within reason), but that there is a code there.
So think for yourself, what are sources of strength for you? What experiences in your past have contributed to your ability and versatility as a leader? What fears are you willing to face for your team or your cause? And what do you stand for? I believe these are questions whose mere contemplation is valuable for a leader, and your answers don’t have to be the same as Storm’s. But she’s there as an example, a beacon in the sky, to remind us of what we can do, super powers or no, in the service of those who depend on us and the causes we care about."