Studies of leadership have suggested qualities that people often associate with leadership. They include:
- Technical/specific skill at some task at hand
- Charismatic inspiration - attractiveness to others and the ability to leverage this esteem to motivate others
- Preoccupation with a role - a dedication that consumes much of leaders' life - service to a cause
- A clear sense of purpose (or mission) - clear goals - focus - commitment
- Results-orientation - directing every action towards a mission - prioritizing activities to spend time where results most accrue
- Cooperation - work well with others
- Optimism - very few pessimists become leaders
- Rejection of determinism - belief in one's ability to "make a difference"
- Ability to encourage and nurture those that report to them - delegate in such a way as people will grow
- Role models - leaders may adopt a persona that encapsulates their mission and lead by example
- Self-knowledge (in non-bureaucratic structures)
- Self-awareness - the ability to "lead" (as it were) one's own self prior to leading other selves similarly
- Awarness of environment - the ability to understand the environemt they lead in and how they affect and are affected by it
- With regards to people and to projects, the ability to choose winners - recognizing that, unlike with skills, one cannot (in general) teach attitude. Note that "picking winners" ("choosing winners") carries implications of gamblers' luck as well as of the capacity to take risks, but "true" leaders, like gamblers but unlike "false" leaders, base their decisions on realistic insight (and usually on many other factors partially derived from "real" wisdom).
- Empathy - Understanding what others say, rather than listening to how they say things - this could partly sum this quality up as "walking in someone else's shoes" (to use a common cliché).
- Integrity - the integration of outward actions and inner values.
The approach of listing leadership qualities, often termed "trait theory of leadership", assumes certain traits or characteristics will tend to lead to effective leadership. Although trait theory has an intuitive appeal, difficulties may arise in proving its tenets, and opponents frequently challenge this approach. The "strongest" versions of trait theory see these "leadership characteristics" as innate, and accordingly labels some people as "born leaders" due to their psychological makeup. On this reading of the theory, leadership development involves identifying and measuring leadership qualities, screening potential leaders from non-leaders, then training those with potential.
Todd McDonald has been in the human resource and training industry for over 20 years. He served as Executive Vice President for American Media Inc., where he worked for 10 years. In his tenure with AMI, he worked in multiple capacities including management of the product development, human resource, training, marketing, and sales areas. In 1999, Todd left AMI and founded ATW Training & Consulting.