Defining a leader is not an easy task. It requires looking at the qualities of leadership and determining if an individual possesses them. Of course, if they match a few but not all, does that mean they will be a good leader but not a great one? If they match one but not the rest are they a leader of followers or a very poor leader in general?
This is the fundamental problem with attempting to define what leadership is. One leader is another person's follower, and, while one leader may possess the right qualities for leadership, another may use them better.
Despite this, we will look at the qualities of a leader and determine which qualities are the most essential and which are only secondary.
There are a few qualities that every leader needs to possess if they are going to inspire those around them and lead them to a common goal.
One quality a leader needs to possess is charisma. Charisma is not something that can be defined or even seen. However, when someone comes into contact with an individual who has a lot charisma, they know it and they immediately respond to it. Every great leader in history, the good and the bad, have had charisma to some degree.
One trait of leadership that is seen in many different studies is dedication. This can be dedication to a cause or a belief, but it is usually something that consumes much of the leader's life, making them a champion of their own cause.
This is a very important quality to have as a leader. If an individual lacks integrity, those that follow that leader will leave very quickly. Of all the qualities that a leader can have, integrity ranks as one of the highest, if not the highest. A true leader will never ask anything of anyone, that they would not do themselves.
A true leader will listen to what others have to say, but know that at the end of the day, the decision is theirs to make. A good leader must know when a decision has to be made. They need to make that decision and they need to stick to that decision. Flipping and flopping will only serve to alienate their followers.
There are so many secondary qualities that a leader needs, it is nearly impossible to list them all. However, here are a few of the most important secondary qualities that a leader should possess:
Ability to Communicate and Listen
A leader needs to have the ability to listen to those around them and handle opinions that may be contrary to the leader's own beliefs. At that point, the leader needs to have the ability to communicate effectively and show those around him or her why their opinion is the right one for the situation.
Leaders do make mistakes and their ability to admit their mistakes will earn them the respect of those around them. Everyone makes mistakes, but few admit to them.
Reflection and Assessment
A true leader will look at the whole picture, rather than just at themselves. They will be able to look at everything and assess what is happening, what is not happening, and what they can do to influence the outcome. They need to look at the big picture and understand long-term priorities and short-term emergencies. This clarity comes from remaining calm under pressure.
Peace of Mind
True leaders will have a deep satisfaction about what they have done to change the world. They will know that they did their best when they were called upon, and that they went into it with certainty, conviction, and patience.
All great leaders have a heightened awareness of their own being.
What Does It All Mean?
Taking all of these qualities into consideration, what really makes a leader? Granted some of the greatest leaders in history did not have all of these attributes, but most of them had a majority of these qualities. One thing that is important to remember when you are looking at a leader is perception. In fact, perception of the leader by the followers is really what has defined a leader throughout history.
An excellent example is Adolf Hitler. He was, without a doubt, a horrible and disturbed individual, but through the perception of those who followed him, he was a supreme form of leader. Ample charisma and an ability to convince individuals about his cause allowed him to get immense numbers of followers. On the flip side, Gandhi was an amazing leader who was perceived by many as a holy figure who came to save India. His methods and beliefs were very different from Hitler's but to their followers, they were both perceived as great leaders.
There is a misconception that a leader has to have followers. The truth is that there are many individuals who are not leaders, who have many followers. They do not lead by example, they fool the masses. These are the want-to-be leaders that everyone should watch out for.
Real leaders are those that do not need followers, or do not pursue them. For real leaders, followers simply show up because they are drawn to the individual.
There are plenty of pretend leaders and real leaders, in the world, and the trick is to look through the facade to find the underlying qualities.
Using the qualities we have listed here, you can find out if someone is a leader by a simple elimination technique using only the primary qualities.
You have an individual who demonstrates amazing charisma. You become enthralled with them and you listen to every word that they say. You believe them to be a leader from the start and are ready to devote yourself to the cause.
However, you soon realize that they don't seem to be always committed to the cause, often get distracted with other things, and they never seem to be able to make a decision.
In this case, the leader relies heavily on one attribute (charisma), but fails on two (decisiveness and dedication). This is not a leader.
You meet a young individual who immediately begins talking to you about their grand scheme to change the world and bring about a better existence for all. They are not the charismatic person, but you can see they are incredibly dedicated to it and that draws you to the cause. Once you become a helper within the core of the cause, you see that the individual spends all their time working towards the cause in an effort to further it. You can see they are incredibly committed and when a decision is made, they stick with it and do not deviate. Rather than let others do a task, they take it head on, while treating everyone equally. Word in the core group of the cause spreads about how this individual sticks to their guns and if they choose to do something for you, they do not forget about it.
In this case, they lack slightly in charisma, but their dedication, integrity, and determination more than make up for it. Here, you have a leader.