TRUE LEADERSHIP

“A leader is a dealer in hope.”
-Napoleon Bonaparte, French leader and general

Think of three people from the past or present whom you consider to be great leaders.

Next, think of three characteristics that made them great leaders. Do this right now -before reading on.

Why did you choose those three specific characteristics that you believe make exceptional leaders? Because you see them within yourself. How could I know that? Because you don’t see the world as it is. You see the world as – you are.

Do you see yourself as a leader? Have you ever even considered asking yourself that question? Are you involved in your community? Perhaps you are a leader and don’t know it. Think of your church, your temple, local government, your children’s school or a community service organization. Learning the key traits of leadership can enhance all aspects of your life, including your relationships.

I recently completed a video project on leadership that stretched my thinking in a way I never thought possible. To begin the project, I looked throughout history at those I thought were highly successful leaders and tried to identify the traits that made them so.

I thought of Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa, General George Patton, Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir, Martin Luther King Jr., Joan of Arc and the man known as the great communicator, President Ronald Reagan. What were the common traits that made them great leaders? It certainly wasn’t style. Their styles were totally different. Also, style is determined by many elements including culture, ideals, timing, value systems and forms of government. So style doesn’t necessarily make a competent leader.

Suddenly, I had a question that made me very uneasy; I realized I had to get past my own value judgments and bias. If style isn’t really a trait of a leader, is morality?

Weren’t there some pretty morally corrupt people who have been very strong leaders? Was Idi Amin, former president of Uganda, a powerful leader? Yes, he was. He was also a paranoid maniac and a mass murderer. What about the dictator of the former Soviet Republic, Joseph Stalin? Some say he was worse than Hitler, yet wasn’t he a leader?

What did this mean in terms of my quest for the common traits? It means morality really depends on society. But the core traits of a leader are fundamental truths that don’t change. After all, didn’t we have a several presidents who were very competent leaders – with highly questionable morals?

Does being a successful leader even mean that you have to be a nice person? I can think of many corporate CEO’s whose leadership excellence is modeled in text books. Yet, many of them were, and are, tough, highly critical, aggressive, brutally honest and just, well, not nice people. Some other truisms flooded my brain. Just because you are the boss, it doesn’t make you the leader. Power only makes you the boss. You can’t demand leadership. People give you leadership and they can take it away. People really aren’t born leaders. Leadership can be learned.

Given these insights, I’ve identified five key traits of true leaders. As you read them, keep in mind that they are independent of culture, race and value systems.

Trait #1: You must passionately believe in what you do and, when I say passionately, I mean believe with your total being. Motivational speaker and best-selling author Jack Canfield said, “One of the things that may get in the way of people being life long learners is that they’re not in touch with their passion. If you’re passionate about what it is you do, then you’re going to be looking for everything you can do to get better at it.”

Where does passion come from? I’ll give you a hint. It doesn’t come from your head. What’s left? Somewhere deeper – your heart. True leaders are passionate and, because they are passionate, they are consistent, committed and unwavering in what they believe and they show boundless enthusiasm. They have to make their vision happen!

Here’s how strong I personally feel about passion. If you don’t have it, you’d better find it because, if you don’t, there’s going to be a large portion of your life that’s going to be empty. The good news is that you can find passion if you make it your mission to do so. Trait #2: Leaders feel fear and do what needs to be done anyway. Sir Winston Churchill said, “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”

Having interviewed a great many leaders, I have no doubt that true leaders are full of fear. And, true leaders don’t pretend that fear doesn’t exist but have total awareness of it and act, nonetheless, in the most fearful of situations with – clarity. Leaders use the fear instead of letting the fear use them. They know fear focuses the mind and can be turned to power. The American writer, Ambrose Redmoon said,”Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”

Trait #3: Leaders empower people. Empowerment creates co-ownership by giving those around you the training, space, freedom, authority, support and resources to do the best job possible. The leader, in a sense, relinquishes ownership creating an environment where both the team and leader take responsibility. Leaders know how to ask the right questions and allow others to answer those questions to discover what they need to learn. Leaders ask for suggestions, listen more than talk, get people involved and then let them make it happen. Leaders watch but never micromanage. General George Patton said, “Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.”

Trait #4: Leaders have a clear vision of where they want to go. Ask yourself – What would move someone to take a journey that he, or she, doesn’t want to take? A leader takes people to places that they, if left on their own, might not go. Napoleon Bonaparte said, “A leader is a dealer in hope.”

A vision is about greatness. It goes beyond the individual. It focuses our sights and actions on what we want to become tomorrow. A vision is an emotionally charged, clear and vivid picture or mental movie of the future. The American author and educator, Helen Keller said, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” As most of you know, Helen Keller was both blind and deaf.

Trait #5: Leaders must be able to communicate their vision. This is where most leaders and most people are found wanting. They are unable to paint a vivid picture of the future and, therefore, fail at getting others to jump on board their journey. As the Irish playwright and essayist, George Bernard Shaw wrote, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” You see, stories are the real thing. They are how we remember, how we learn, and how we visualize what can be. People have to know, feel and see the direction you want them to go. So, if you feel your communication skills need improvement, join an acting or speech giving class. Take a course in communication skills. When you communicate; when you share your vision; you connect, and that’s what leadership is all about.

You can’t fake being a leader. People watch and then act from your example. If you have passion, they have passion. If you empower, they empower. What you see in people is a reflection of you. As you grow as a leader, you will see those around you grow.

You may not be a leader in the traditional sense. But by learning these five leadership traits, you will set a sterling example at work and at home.

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