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Real leaders — not those people who run for office every other year, promising “real” leadership for a change — possess a combination of qualities and characteristics that make us want to follow them. Whether we naturally gravitate to these quality individuals or we subconsciously recognize their leadership, we follow them. We’re pretty good at recognizing greatness in certain people.
Why are some people great leaders? What leadership characteristics do they possess that we don’t?
“What makes the sphinx the seventh wonder? What makes the dawn come up like thunder?”
Cowardly Lion, “The Wizard of Oz” (1939)
- They are credible
- They’re persuasive
- They’re able to plan effectively
- They have a strong belief system (a sound moral/ethical code)
- They communicate extremely well (direct, to the point)
- They’re confident, both in their abilities and in the abilities of others
- They’re goal-oriented
- They’re charismatic
- They do what’s right, not necessarily what’s popular
- They are decisive, especially in crises
- They are responsible
- They’re knowledgeable and experienced (and they share their knowledge and experience)
- They don’t become complacent (they don’t rest on their laurels);
- They trust, but don’t assume
- They have an eye for talent
“Lead, follow, or get out of the way.”
Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, No. 1 (1776)
Where do these qualities come from?
Is there such a thing as innovative leadership quality? It seems anyone can be trained to be a manager, but leaders are cut from a different cloth. Why? It’s not that they’re born that way. They can be made, but there’s no easily reproducible process, no easy-to-follow recipe or we’d be doing it all the time.
The service academies seem to have the greatest success in this regard — they purposely educate and groom individuals to be leaders by instilling discipline, self-sacrifice, and an unshakable work ethic and by constantly emphasizing the need to plan for the best but prepare for the worst. Still, even they don’t have anything close to a perfect track record when it comes to turning out leaders. Similarly, there are outstanding leaders throughout history who never served in the military.
“The real leader has no need to lead; he is content to point the way.”
Henry Miller (1891-1980)
How are leaders best made, in your opinion? Or are they born? Do you go looking for leaders or do you wait for them to come to you? Does your organization have a process for identifying and training potential leaders?