Career Advice – What Makes a Leader a Leader?

Understanding the traits of leadership is a key to career success.

Leaders come in all shapes and sizes. Napoleon was just a tad over five feet tall. He had a chronic stomachache. Another commanding Frenchman, Charles DeGaulle, towered well over six feet. FDR was bound to a wheelchair. Teddy Roosevelt was a robust outdoorsman. JFK’s speeches flowed like mellow wine. Gerald Ford had trouble getting through a speech without at least one gaffe. We have many more Career Help Articles Now Available.

Some lead by charm and candor; others by force or deception, fear or hatred. Millions of people followed Gandhi, the epitome of moral leadership, and Hitler, the personification of evil.

One scholar, in what appears to have been an attitude of resignation, came to the conclusion that leaders just sort of emerge on the career path. We know a leader when we see a leader.

It has been posited that one could take any group of people, put them on a desert island, strip them of all their earthly possessions, clear their minds of any previous relationships, leave them alone for 30 days, after which time the same persons who had held a leadership position in the group’s prior incarnation would do so in the new order of things.

Many years ago, a Swedish sociologist determined that there is a definite pecking order among chickens. The leader regularly pecks on the number two chicken which in turn pecks on the next down the chain of command, etc., etc.

The same system prevails throughout the animal kingdom.

One student of the subject declares, “Just as the real basics of human nature do not change from one generation to another, so the real basics of human leadership do not change from one leader to another – from one field to the next – but remain always and everywhere the same.”

True enough, but that leaves unanswered this question: what are these “real basics of human leadership?”

We recognize leadership when we see one person convincing others that by following his direction they can reach an objective that he has deemed to be worthwhile.

There are five traits of leadership.

1. Leaders have zeal, courage and self-confidence that enable them to get out front of the crowd and risk the price of failure.

2. Leaders see opportunities among the challenges.

3. Leaders can motivate themselves without waiting for others to light the spark of action.

4. Leaders listen; they identify the cravings of those whom they would lead. They show empathy.

5. Leaders have the ability to communicate so as to convince followers that they have the answer to the question that resides in all of us: What’s in it for me?

Can the traits of leadership be learned? Yes.

Where does one acquire these skills that lead to career success?

In order to learn to be a leader one should diligently study the way leaders lead and adapt those traits. Read books about leaders. Watch them in action. Emulate them.

Dr. Kenneth Dodge, a psychologist at Duke University, says, “social intelligence that translates into leadership skills can be rehearsed. It’s like shooting a basketball: we see kids improve the more they practice.”

Not everyone wants to take on the work and risk of being a leader. A place of leadership does not define career success for everyone. There’s nothing wrong with that. But if you don’t want to be a leader, make your best effort to be a good follower. Good leaders require good followers. We have many more Career Help Articles Now Available.