Academic Leadership: The Online Journal


Carroll Helm


George Orwell once wrote an intriguing and acclaimed short-story called The Shooting of an Elephant. The story takes place in the mid 1930’s in Moulmein, lower Burma. Orwell was a young police officer in the province that was still under British colonial rule. He describes in lurid detail how is pressured into killing a tame elephant that had escaped his trainer’s chains and was enjoying a day of freedom. Unfortunately, the elephant ravages a local market and a man is killed by the elephant. Over 2,000 Burmese were watching and waiting to see what he would do. What happens next is an example of what leadership courage is not. “I halted on the road. When I saw the elephant I knew with perfect certainty that I ought not to shoot him.” He shoots the elephant anyway. “I often wondered if any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to keep from looking the fool (Literature Network, 2009).” Sometimes it takes extreme courage not to act on something when being pressured by the majority. This quality or disposition called courage is one of five absolutely essential dispositions every leader must possess. Is it possible to define those qualities, traits, skills or dispositions which could guarantee or predict success for a leader in any endeavor or position which requires leadership? Do leaders at all levels and in all organizations possess certain dispositions which make them successful? I’m sure the young Orson learned a valuable lesson from that experience, and probably reasoned later his lack of courage was related to his youth. Was it? Certainly many people blame their youth for all kinds of lapses of judgment, failures of conscience and for just doing the wrong thing. Could it be that they simply don’t have the “right stuff.”