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Peter Decaprio: Expectations of a Leader

Peter Decaprio

What makes a good leader? Are leaders born or made? Are they entitled to their position by virtue of who they are. Or do they earn the respect and obedience that people give them? asks Peter Decaprio.

In his essay “On Being a Leader,” Joseph Joubert discusses these questions from an existentialist perspective. Before delving into the philosophical ideas at work in Joubert’s essay, let us consider the matter of leadership in general.

Types of leaders:

There are many different kinds of leaders and many theories about what makes a good leader. It might be enough to say that in every organization there is someone in charge; this person is in some sense or other the “leader”. However, it would be an exaggeration to say that anyone in a leadership position automatically deserves to be called a leader. Leadership is an attribute, and like most attributes, it is not necessarily earned. An interesting question is whether leaders deserve their positions or whether they simply hold them by virtue of their power over others.

Can someone be entitled to the obedience and respect given to him? Machiavelli says yes; he believes that government authority comes from God. Therefore those who have been granted power have a right to lead as long as they use their powers justly. Although some people might agree with this idea, it does seem possible for a person to take on a role of leadership without deserving it. The basic assumption here would be that being in charge entitles one both to the privileges of office. Such as high pay, prestige, and the like and to the obedience. That others give in order to ensure that their needs are taken care of.

Aristotle thought otherwise; he believed that good leaders deserve what they get. Because it is only the best people who should be given power over others. This idea has caused much debate among philosophers later on says Peter Decaprio.

  • Is it right for people who are not qualified simply by having been born to take on leadership roles? Or does authority come from something other than natural talent? For example, if someone were elect leader through democratic elections. Would this alone entitle him or her to lead? If so then might anyone with enough support in an election suddenly become a justifiable candidate because many people want them in office and would no doubt obey them?

These questions and more come up when trying to determine the basis of people’s right to lead. For example, should we follow those who deserve respect simply because they hold certain positions or do we go by some standard that is separate from office status? This is where leadership qualities such as intelligence, compassion, and courage come in—qualities that not everyone possesses. Some leaders may possess many admirable traits while others may be lacking; nevertheless, if their followers perceive them as having these traits then it seems likely that they will willingly give obedience.

  • What about groups like the Mafia or other organizations that have a strict hierarchy among members? Do the “bosses” deserve their positions or are they just thugs who use power to intimidate others?

Of course, this is a matter of opinion and might vary depending on how high up in the organization one might go. Peter Decaprio says if one were to look at some high-ranking bosses. Then it would certainly seem that they have chose as leaders. Because they possess qualities that would enable them to lead effectively. At the same time, those who are lower down in the hierarchy may not feel as if they can question their superiors; instead, they simply obey (or risk punishment for disobedience).

Generally speaking, what makes people follow certain individuals could be boiled down to two factors: power or authority.

  • Power refers to someone’s ability to get things complete; having money or resources is important here since it enables leadership over others—for example, by bribing them to do what one wants or simply by buying oneself out of an unfavorable situation (or threatening others with bodily harm).
  • Authority, on the other hand, means that someone has a legitimate right to lead. This can be more democratic. Because it depends on whether people think you deserve your role; if they believe in what you stand for and want to follow, then you will have no trouble commanding their obedience and respect.


Peter Decaprio explains it is important to note that even among those who consider themselves followers there may be some who feel as if they should, perhaps out of force of circumstance or internal desire, take on leadership roles themselves. In fact, there are many leaders within organizations as well as those outsides—for example, union leaders and protestors who work together in order to push through certain policies.