This was written at a time when Rinoa's character was becoming increasingly misunderstood, as mentioned in Riddel's post. Although well-intentioned, many fans who want others to 'understand' and 'like' Rinoa go about it the wrong way – by describing Rinoa as someone who she is not. In doing so, they don't let other fans decide for themselves what they think of the character.
A role model is someone who people aspire to be like. Rinoa is constantly running away from home, skipping school and getting involved in seriously dangerous political business. She hired SeeD mercenaries to help the resistance and although they are from a school, it doesn't change the fact that mercenaries are paid murderers and rebels are terrorists. Anyone in the right frame of mind will realize that she lives in a fantasy world where justice comes from using your sword.
"I can't bear to watch them suffer like this."
–Rinoa at Timber
Characters are rescuing Rinoa constantly throughout the game. This is because she is the typical Piscean who hopes, expects and in her heart knows people will come through for her when she isn't able to by herself. She would admit to feeling helpless or scared but she is never seen calling out for help because she knows she can depend on Squall. It's this needy side of her personality which sets the foundation for romantic scenes.
That is, what she believes in... for now. Rinoa was meant to be the type of character whose heart and purpose can change rather quickly. So while at first she would take to her weapons and fight, she would want to stop all the violence after having seen too much. What she does take pride in is being able to consciously make the choice, over what she does and how she lives. She doesn't blindly follow orders like a SeeD and she doesn't live hidden away in a mansion.
"How sad... Act on my decision? That's your duty? Oh, what an easy life it must be, just to follow orders..."
–Rinoa at Timber
Rinoa taking initiative and joining the resistance was her way of proving to herself and to her father that she indeed has a mind of her own. Many times throughout the game she does things to prove to herself and to the SeeDs that she is a part of their group, from confronting Edea with her own plan to fighting alongside them at G-Garden. Although on the surface she seems to be venturing out on her own, she is still reliant on being part of a group.
"Guys, I'm gonna fight, too. I don't wanna just hide. I know I can fight. I want to fight alongside everyone. I have to fight. To prove to myself that I can do it...That I belong with you guys."
–Rinoa at Balamb Garden
The leader misconception comes from people believing that she leads the Forest Owls. Although she's known for gently encouraging others and having a scary temper that can be dominating, she lacks the resolve that a leader needs when in a crisis. Independent is the last thing she can be. She feels powerless and purposeless when alone. She'll quickly back out of situations or follow others' decisions, literally falling into line or onto the floor when it seems there is no definitive 'right' thing to do. This happens in Timber, Deling, Trabia, B-Garden, and when she gives up her life to be locked in the Witch Memorial.
"Do we...have to fight? Isn't there another way? Y'know, to avoid any bloodshed?"
–Rinoa at Trabia
Rinoa only becomes a Witch at the very end of Disc 2, when Ultimecia (controlling Edea) passes Edea's Embodiment into Rinoa. Soon after, Ultimecia's consciousness wins control over Rinoa's body. Seifer, who was never really a Knight, was brainwashed on a subconscious level by Ultimecia in his dreams. His RO~MANTIC dream was just a coincidence and an obsession; during the game he requests a book called The Witch's Knight (Scenario Edition) from the library.
"Seifer! Stop it! Haven't you done enough!? I know you're not like that!"
–Rinoa at Lunatic Pandora
Although Seifer's romantic dream is never explained in the game, Kazushige Nojima explains it in FF8 Ultimania. As a child, Seifer watched the movie of a Knight and a Witch who stood up for the people of a falling country. This heroic movie happens to be starring Laguna as the Knight and Squall experiences it in a dream sequence. Seifer then modeled all of his manly actions, confidence, weapon choice and battle stance to be just like the Knight in the movie. The movie did so well that it was recently remade, just before the game starts.
Rinoa has all her needs taken care of, whether she asks or not, by multiple men! She was definitely living a cushy life whether at home or at the Forest Owl Base. Spoiled princess, perhaps. Acting and wanting to be spoiled, definitely not.
She loves physical contact with the people she likes, almost to a fault. It's her way of feeling safe since as a child she loved to sit in her parents' laps. During the Deling Witch Parade she's seen clinging onto an angry Squall, who shrugs her away. Although terrified, she still insists on holding onto him. Similar situations happen on the Ragnarok, although by then Squall doesn't honestly want for her to let go.
Kazushige Nojima wanted Rinoa to be very different from the other FF Heroines in that she is a "straight" character. She is capable of doing some shocking things for a girl and she is all about confrontation. This includes speaking her mind even when it most likely will offend or embarrass someone, physically hitting people, and (due to her ambitions) being demanding of others when she's not yet familiar with them.
"It's probably none of my business, but... Maybe you're being a little too 'cool', Squall...?"
–Rinoa in Zell's room
She's "mood making" and that doesn't necessarily mean good moods. Her candor can darken everyone's moods, too. If she believes something is very wrong, she's definitely going to say something and change everyone's feelings for the worse.