An army is greater than a warrior. ~Matshona Dhliwayo
What is leadership? Are leaders made or born? What differentiates ordinary leaders from great ones? These are just three of the countless questions among many that contemporary philosophers, sociologists, and leadership experts have been grappling with.
Some say in order to truly understand the qualities that make leaders great, study extraordinary people like Alexander the Great, Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln, and Mother Theresa. Though all these leaders had different worldviews, vocation, training, and resources, it is undeniable they all shared at least one or more of the traits below.
1. Courage –– People are drawn to heroes but repulsed by cowards. When we look at brave people, we see something inside of them that we desire for ourselves, which is why all great leaders stand out, even before they achieve seemingly impossible feats. Courage expands one’s potential; when it shrinks, so does the prospect of achieving success. Fear is limiting; therefore, leaders must be fearless when pursuing their limitless ambitions. Had Alexander the Great not been valiant, he wouldn’t have conquered the Persian army of 200, 000 soldiers with just 35, 000 men.
2. Integrity –– A leader is only as good as his word. No business, organization, or country can function at its highest potential if its principal lacks integrity. People are only willing to go to Hell -and- back for someone they trust. If they don’t have faith in you, you could promise them the world and they wouldn’t walk a mile for you. A great example of someone with integrity is Jesus: His disciples were willing to die for Him even long after He had died because of the faith they had in the integrity of His promises.
3. Passion –– When you love what you do and do what you love, it shows in the quality of your work. It is difficult, if not impossible, for one to greatly excel at that which he does not enjoy. Passion is the very fountain from which one gets the energy to keep going in spite of fear, obstacles, and critics. Likewise, love is the most powerful force in the universe––so powerful that philosophers, both ancient and contemporary, opine: “God is love, and love is God.” Therefore, when a leader loves what he does and does what he loves, he can expect transcendent success. Michelangelo’s passion for sculpting is what made him the leader in his field. He was so passionate about his work that he continued to work on the Sistine Chapel, even after it impaired his sight and badly injured his neck.
4. Creativity –– It is impossible to create anything new without original thoughts, so when a business or organization stops coming up with new ideas, new companies, both larger or smaller, take its place. Leaders who stand out, therefore, are highly creative. Ingenuity also enables them to do much with little, as well as to solve problems quickly. Steve Jobs is one leader who was known to display exceptional creative thinking. It was his creative leadership that saved Apple from the brink of failure when he took over in 1997. Simplifying their products and making them part of our everyday experience, Apple is now worth over $700 billion dollars.
5. Optimistic –– A leader’s task is to lift people up when they are down and to lift them even higher when they are already up. To do this, great leaders are incessantly positive; one cannot give what one does not have himself. And as a result of their perpetual optimism, they are able to take great risks and inspire others to do so, which is the only route to great accomplishments.
6. Humility –– A humble leader is willing to learn from both those who know more and those who know less than him; knowledge is often found in the least likely people and places. The humbler a leader is, therefore, the more he can learn. Modesty also sets great leaders apart; we prefer to be around people who make us feel great and who talk us up, not who talk down to us. That is why millions, even today, revere Nelson Mandela; if you were a pauper, he would talk to you as if you were a prince. Approachable, he was sought by people of all ranks; his humility attracted more followers than a general’s sword could.
7. Curiosity –– Most, if not all, of the world’s great discoveries, were made by curious people. Being inquisitive encourages one to explore what others do not, thereby increasing his or her chances of unearthing new things. They say curiosity killed the cat, but often, it has rewarded the inquisitive. Had the Wright brothers not been curious about flying, we would not have airplanes.
8. Compassion –– Like perfume, compassion draws people to––not away from––you. We only bare our hearts and souls to those we are convinced truly care. Before followers can completely invest themselves in a leader’s hopes and dreams, they must be fully convinced that the leader is fully invested in theirs. That is why Mother Theresa, though just a nun, was able to achieve so much. Her empathy for the poor and others made her irresistible, so much so that, by the time she died in 1997, I.K. Gujral, Prime Minister of India, said of her: “A beacon of light and hope for millions of poor has gone out of our lives.”
9. Adaptable –– Life is the most unpredictable entity in the universe––just about as capricious as the wind––and any leader who is not flexible will fail at his mission. When the wind blows, a tree bends, and so do remarkable leaders when unforeseen circumstances come their way. Had Cyrus the Great not adapted his battle techniques when conquering the impenetrable fortress of Babylon, he would not have been in the history books.
10. Commitment –– To accomplish great things requires great sacrifice, and great sacrifice cannot be achieved without great commitment. Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa took approximately four years to complete, and Thomas Edison made 1, 000 unsuccessful attempts before he completed the light bulb. If creating works of genius requires unwavering commitment, so does leading the people you employ to create them.
11. Resilience –– If palaces were built in a day, every beggar would have one. Leaders who achieve great things, therefore, persevere greatly. Pyramids, for example, stand as a testament of what persistence can accomplish. Relentless to see their dreams come to life, the pharaohs of old have not been forgotten thousands of years after they died. A leader’s achievements are in proportion to his tenacity. That is why the winner in any battle is never the smartest, but the last one standing.
12. Wisdom –– Wisdom is the right application of knowledge. The greater the wisdom a leader possesses, therefore, the more he can accomplish. Insight enables a leader to see what others cannot, which enables him to achieve what others cannot. It also enables a leader to deal shrewdly with his opponents and wisely with his allies. Where intelligence doubles a leader’s value, wisdom triples it. King Solomon is the greatest example of this. Though he ruled over a small country surrounded by hostile kingdoms, through sagacity, he managed to outwit every ruler competing with him and ended up ruling a territory far larger than any of his predecessors.
13. Generosity –– Extraordinary leaders are generous with their time, money, knowledge, and talents. It is not what one receives that makes him great, but what one gives. And, giving is receiving inside out, so the more a leader gives, the more he receives, and the more he stands out.
14. Inspiring –– Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, and Oprah Winfrey all spent a significant portion of their lives inspiring people. Life is difficult for all: no one is spared from adversity, sorrow, and hardship. That is why multitudes are drawn to great leaders: they lift people up. It goes without saying: the more people a leader inspires, the more people are willing to follow him. When you lift someone up, you don’t need a gun or a sword to get them to follow you; he does so willingly.Evidence of this is Jesus. Without money, soldiers, or weapons, He managed to inspire His generation so much that, thousands of years later, Napoleon Bonaparte said of Him: “I know men, and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between Him and every other person in the world, there is no possible term of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creation of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded His empire upon love; and at this hour, millions of men would die for Him.”
15. Accountability –– When things go right, a leader is praised, but when they go wrong, a leader is criticized. Leaders who stand out share praise but take the blame. One who holds others responsible for his failures can never improve, and one who cannot improve can never lead, for how can one better others if one cannot better himself? And, the greater a leader’s accountability, the greater his nobility.
16. Instinctive –– Instinct is the gut feeling you have about something or someone for which you have no rational explanation. In any discipline, intuition is what separates those who succeed from those who fail. People who rise to the top are not always the smartest, but they are the most instinctive. Two people can possess the same knowledge, but one may make a different decision based solely on a hunch. Instinctively knowing when to hold, when to fold, and when to play is what separates great poker players from ordinary ones.
17. Communication –– If people don’t know what you require of them, they will never fulfill your expectations. How a leader communicates to his subordinates determines how effectively they perform. Winston Churchill was said to spend two days practicing his speech, well aware of the power of words. Even in nature, animals would not be able to hunt together, nor would birds be able to migrate as one in perfect formation, if it weren’t for communication.
18. Excellence –– The only way for a leader to stand out is to help those beneath him stand out, and the only way for a leader to do so is to practice excellence himself. In a word, he must practice it; indeed, he must apply it; and in all things, he must perform it. Diligence in little things brings great rewards; diligence in big things brings extraordinary rewards. A leader’s rewards are in proportion to the quality of his leadership.
19. Charisma –– Leadership is an influence; therefore to be a great leader, one must be able to draw a great number of people and to draw a great number of people, one must have charisma. No one follows anyone they dislike, but people are willing to die for those they love, only to stone those they hate instead. The greater a leader’s charisma, therefore, the greater the number of people he can draw, and the greater the things he can accomplish. Charisma is powerful––so powerful that men like Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King changed the world because of it.
20. Spirituality –– Humans are spirit beings housed in a body. If you touch their minds, they will follow you; if you touch their hearts, they will fight for you; and if you touch their souls, they will even die for you. A leader who intends to achieve extraordinary things must, therefore, be spiritual, for it is from the soul that men create their highest works and do their highest deeds. There is no one willing to die for Bill Gates, but millions are ready to die for Jesus, Buddha, and Krishna, though they died more than two thousand years ago.
In addition to all of the tips above, below are 20 insights extracted from my books to help you stand out as a leader.