The concept of leadership has existed from the dawn of humanity. It is clearly not unique to the human race and has been documented in many other species within the animal kingdom. Leaders are influential to the success of families, businesses, communities, countries, and cultures. There’s a sense of satisfaction and pride when a trusted person presides over the interests and wellbeing of the entire group.
One of the earliest books written on this subject was specifically penned for the Emperor Chandragupta Maurya around 300 BCE. Since then, there have been countless more authors delving into this vast subject, along with articles, essays, and speeches from people of every race, gender, and creed. According to the Harvard Extension School of Professional Development, there are currently over 15,000 titles available in print.
With all the accessible material on this broad and diverse subject, are there particular qualities which are inclusive to every person who wants to be or claims to be a leader? Likewise, are there traits which should never be considered attributes for successful leadership?
Leadership has many levels, definitions, and varying degrees of responsibilities. For instance, political leaders have, or at least ought to have, a different approach to leading their electorate from those in the business community. While some goals may parallel each other, elected officials may govern over fierce business competitors with the objective of seeking the common good for the entire constituency.
All leaders rise to their position in unique ways. Politicians are typically elected through some democratic process and business leaders frequently work their way up starting from low-level or mid-level positions. Ordinarily, business leaders attain this title because of the success they’ve brought to the company and not solely to themselves.
However, being “successful” in business is neither a barometer nor a requirement for leadership. Success is often measured in dollars and cents, while leadership ought to be measured in wisdom and common sense. Having the capacity to make money does not equate to nor declare exceptional leadership skills.
Frequently, those at the helm of large corporations are beholden to the shareholders and can be pressured to make choices negatively impacting those they were ultimately charged to lead. While those decisions may have bolstered their prominence within the corporation, a lack of leadership could possibly put the lives of many in jeopardy.
Becoming a political leader is perhaps one of the few areas where one knowingly expects to become a leader. While their dreams and goals may have originated with the intentions of positively impacting their community, there is no doubt winning an elected office propels them to a leadership role.
But just as being successful in business does not proclaim a leader, neither is leadership validated by winning an election. Leadership, at whatever level it finds itself, is first the ability to lead. It is an ongoing demonstration of behaviors others will want to and gladly follow. There is no expectation they must accept you; leaders understand they continually earn their position. The moment it is taken for granted is the moment they begin to surrender the title they were elected to serve.
Additionally, people in leadership positions seek to elevate and inspire others under their watch. Their passion and desire trigger them to encourage others to succeed. True leaders don’t have to make it about themselves. Their compassion for others negates a need for self-promotion because they know egos are the biggest inhibitors for group success.
Along the way, there may be losses. A business can go under. There may be defeats. Leaders keep the best interests of their team in mind. When a CEO of a major corporation is voted out, that person’s next move isn’t to willingly conspire against their soon-to-be former company. The livelihoods of those whom they previously led and earned their respect, depend on the continued success of that business. Otherwise, their original intentions of leadership as well as reputation they worked so hard to gain would fall into question.
Similarly, when an army loses in battle, the general does not desert the troops, the Captain will always go down with the ship, and true leaders will never sabotage those they led.
A Personal Role
Leadership is not merely for the chosen few; we all have our own part to play. No matter where you are or what lot you have fallen into, we can choose to have leadership qualities in everything we do.
First, we can demand of ourselves those same expectations we expect from a leader. Integrity, honesty, empathy are virtues we want to see in leaders while not being out of our own reach. We want to follow those who are caring, understanding, and pleasant. Why can we not exude these characteristics ourselves?
It’s fine to rally behind a leader, but that doesn’t preclude us from being answerable for our own actions. Being responsible for personal conduct compels us to be accountable and not blame others for our mistakes. Great leaders don’t focus on blaming others. They won’t waste time accusing someone for their own inadequacies and losses because leaders know there is always room for improvement.
Leadership, by every stretch of the word, is a complex and complicated subject. There are many levels, intensities, and achievements which define leadership in that specific instance.
Our responsibilities begin with clarifying what comprises the qualities of leadership you foresee in a leader. Begin to live those ideals and you’ll soon realize the more of a leadership role you seize, the more you’ll understand the importance of compassion, empathy, and kindness toward others. Our own leadership role can initiate a great contribution in making this world a better place.