Great leaders are rare. Their thoughts represent a better way for people to act or for societies to organize resources, a better way clear enough in its expression that a majority of the crowd will turn in the new direction. These leaders see in the moment what fruit the years could bear. Before the age of mass communications, such effectiveness required an army. Luther's influence spread as widely as Ceasar's but their methods were clearly different, more thanks to Johann Gutenberg than any other agent. [I apologize for not defining "better" but no one spends more than about 55 seconds reading these posts so fuggidaboudit]. I imagine Anwar Sadat was such a leader, for instance or perhaps Gorbachev. But of course there is always the minority threatened by change.
Ordinary leaders, the kind that are simply noted in our history books but who outnumber great leaders the way the "begats" outnumber patriarchs...they are to history as twine is to netting: the great leaders are the knots that turn the threads of history into a web. The ordinary leader understands his duty and if not afflicted with a need to make a mark in history, can sense where the crowd is headed and get out in front of it and point his staff in the direction he hopes they are headed. Democracies are infested with such leaders, the present US congress being a rather pathetic case in point. The debates in which those contesting for leadership roles must demonstrate possession of facts, a feeling for where the average person thinks their bread is buttered [or pilfered] and a capacity to maneuver and inspire are known to be hazardous to political fortunes of ordinary leaders. That's why we are treated to fewer and more watered down debates. A figurehead propped up in front of the crowd, will function as an ordinary leader. Ronald Reagan would be an example.
But what if the figure head comes to life? What if, like an evil puppet in a bad horror flick, the figurehead gets it into his head that he can do the figgerin'? Or what if the leader is so dim wittedly stubborn that he will not, can not, respond to the realities of his situation with meaningful changes? This is the leader who backs his pickup truck over his closest friends and advisors in his belief that he is speeding along his personal fast lane to heaven.
Ask not what your country can do for you, in fact, don't even ask what your country can do TO you!
Leaders seem to be people outside the crowd, a force apart from it and in some way above it. But if you really want to understand the love/hate relationship we have with leaders, look into the ambivalence of your own wish to act freely yet be free of responsibility.
[about.com's political humor page supplied photo, attributed to Atrios, no less! But I suspect Duncan was in Philly when dear leader was in China...you didn't forget to tell us about your invitation from the Whitehouse, now did you Duncan?]