What It Takes To Be an Outstanding Leader: Kemal Atatürk

Books on leadership abound in political science literature. However, I am not going to delve into those murky waters; instead, on this day of the 77th anniversary of his death, I will briefly explain, in appreciation for what he carved out of a devastated empire, why Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was a truly remarkable leader and a statesman that has been revered by many politicians and statesmen in the world.

First of all, Mustafa Kemal was not  simply a well-trained officer, a successful commander or a politician, he was truly a man of vision, a man who could not only dissect the problems of  his age as skillfully as a master surgeon, but could also see far beyond his times and pinpoint the kinds of social and political problems his country could possibly face under certain conditions. In his case this was not only a matter of having some inborn talent, but something he quite obviously nurtured over his tumultuous and short life. His interest in social, political and scientific realms had almost no limits, making him an avid reader who kept reading, taking notes and pondering about world politics, about the ills of the decaying Ottoman Empire, and about the possibilities that the future might have in store for the Turkish nation he was trying to forge. How can one have vision unless one’s powers of imagination are nurtured with intellectual pursuits?

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

Secondly, Mustafa Kemal was a man of calculation. He was no mere adventurer or fanatic that led his people to catastrophic ends. Unlike some others, he set realistic goals in his effort to serve his people, and thanks to his decisiveness and superior organizational skills, he succeeded in attaining them. This certainly requires rational thinking, a firm grasp of  world politics and also a solid understanding of history, all of which he did possess.

Last, but not least, he always knew at what point to stop. He knew what could be possible under the circumstances. He was not a daydreamer, a romantic adventurer or a utopian that acted on ill-considered ideas. Rational thought and calculation, in other words, science was his true guide as he came to express this to his nation in 1924.

Today many half-baked intellectuals look down upon Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, call him a benign dictator (inspired by their Anglo-American masters), and some even go as far as blatantly denigrating him, not realizing that had it not been for his anti-imperialist stance and politics bringing about the formation of a modern republic, they would have become mere colonial subjects within the imperial schemes of the age. However, this kind of attitude that feeds upon sheer ignorance only goes to indicate how great a mind he was that the nation he skillfully crafted under highly adverse conditions has had many achievements in 92 years.

In short, what needs to be done to indicate our gratitude for Atatürk’s heroic efforts for his land and people is to avoid cliches in commemorating him, and to emphasize his greatest professional, personality and moral characteristics without falling into banality.