Series on Leadership Part 2 – Defining Characteristics

February 1, 2008

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.


Series on Leadership Part 1 – What is Leadership?

January 31, 2008

Over the next few months I hope to examine, and hopefully with the help of anyone reading, intend to come to a better understanding of leadership in the modern world.

Why examine leadership? Few issues permeate our daily lives to the extent of the concept of leadership. Everyone is certainly aware of the implications of the next presidential election… few would dispute that the country is in need of better leadership (including myself… I did, however, vote for Bush…twice). Leadership not only plays a part in government and politics, but also our daily lives, whether we work at a manufacturing plant, a school, a hospital, a law firm, or even McDonald’s.

We can all certainly point out bad leaders when we work under them or when we observe them from a distance… but can we use these observations to make ourselves better leaders? More importantly, can we even define what leadership is, or what characteristics make a good or effective leader? Is leading the same as managing? Does the type of leadership that is needed vary from situation to situation?

This is a place to begin to think about what leadership is, what effect it has on our lives, and what we can do to improve ourselves as leaders. Over the next few months I hope to gain a clearer understanding of the idea of ‘leadership’. As the series progresses, please feel free to post your thoughts on the subject.

Who asked you, anyway?

January 21, 2008

Yesterday, Chuck Norris (an outspoken supporter of Mike Huckabee) made the statement that the president of the United States ages at an ‘accelerated rate of 3-to-1’ every year that he or she is in office. He then questioned “If John McCain takes over the presidency at 72 and he ages 3-to-1, how old will he be in four years? Eighty-four years old — and can he handle that kind of pressure in that job?”.

My first reaction was confusion… What exactly makes Chuck Norris think that I care about his opinion regarding the presidential candidates? Sure, I like watching re-runs of ‘Walker, Texas Ranger’ as much as the next guy, but why would I be swayed by ‘Walker’s’ opinion regarding Mike Huckabee and John McCain?

I was then puzzled by the second confusing detail of this press release…

When did Chuck Norris find the time to do a scientific case study on how much the aging process accelerates (if it does at all) while a president is in office? Evidently he is not just ‘Walker’, ‘Delta Force Commander’, and six time middleweight Karate Champion, but also an expert on the human aging process.

What exactly makes all of these celebrities think that we care who they are voting for? I have a surprise for you, Oprah. I don’t care what you think of Obama, Huckabee, McCain, Clinton, or anyone else for that matter. Why do these candidates even want these kind of celebrity endorsements? Isn’t Mike Huckabee campaigning largely on his stance of social conservativism? Is he aware that his primary celebrity supporter, Chuck Norris, had a daughter out of wed lock and told reporters in 2004 that he didn’t meet her until she was 26?

This episode is one more notch in the belt of modern U.S. culture. The fact of the matter is that although anyone with half of a functioning brain wouldn’t really care who Oprah endorses, many people in the U.S. do, on some level, base their vote on who ‘Ranger Cordell Walker’ is going to vote for.

That is some scary stuff.