Series on Leadership Part 2 – Defining Characteristics

In Part 1, some questions were posed regarding what leadership is, what makes a good leader, and whether or not an individual can actually develop and improve their leadership skills (as opposed to a leader being ‘born’ rather than ‘made’).

In Part 2, I hope to move closer to defining leadership by taking a look at what characteristics and qualities make a good leader. Perhaps by listing and examining some of these qualities (which are often easy to observe), it will be easier to define the concept of leadership. As the Series on Leadership progresses, we will examine some of these traits in greater detail.

So what traits do excellent leaders usually possess? A fairly large amount of academic research work has been done on the subject, and most researchers agree on a few characteristics.

Daniel Goleman, author, researcher and co-chair of The Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligece in Organizations at Rutgers University, has identified five traits that are commonly noted in research papers on the subject of leadership. They include self awareness, self regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill. Broadly, I feel that a strong argument can be made that these traits are the basic necessities for good leaders.

This list, however, is very broad in definition and possibly lacks the clarity and detail necessary to truly define what constitutes each of these ideas. For example, what exactly constitutes empathy, and what qualities make someone who is ’empathetic’ different from someone who is not?

The list is also possibly lacking in other traits that may be crucial to the job of ‘leading’. ‘Trbpublising’ commented in yesterday’s post that critical thinking, along with the ability to communicate clearly and effectively, is an extremely important trait. I would tend to agree. Another is the ability to make quick, snap decisions – while it is important to be able to think things through in a logical, thought out sense, many front line leaders (especially in the military) would indicate that taking your time while making decisions is not always an option, so the ability to rapidly make good decisions is extremely important. The ability to motivate and inspire those around you is another trait that frequently makes the list.

It quickly becomes obvious that there is no real consensus on which traits are vital to good leadership and which are not. Now that we have a basic list of traits, over the next few weeks we will take a look at these traits in greater detail. Again, feel free to list traits, concepts, or ideas that you feel may add to our understanding of the topic.

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