The legend of King Arthur is a truly classic tale. Young Arthur is destined to be king from birth, preordained to assemble the Knights of the Round Table, and fated to seek out the Holy Grail. It is not until you read between the lines that you discover the real lesson behind this fairytale. Arthur was not a king from the start; even after pulling the famed sword from the stone, it took years for him to hone his abilities. Even then, without the help of many other great knights, he would never have achieved greatness. It is worth examining what it was that separated the good king from those around him and what his fable has in common with real-life leaders. Yes, people can be “wired” a little bit differently, but far more often the differences are learned. There are few, if any, natural born leaders; it is a skill that has to be nurtured and developed, like any other. Becoming a leader is a life-long mission that takes total commitment and self-awareness. There are certain characteristics that noteworthy leaders throughout history have possessed and each of them would confess that there are many burdens that come along with leadership, but the rewards can be immense.

Ray Croc, founder of McDonalds, once said, “The quality of a leader is reflected in the standards they set for themselves.” The man beneath the Golden Arches turned out to be a pretty good leader; one reason for this was the high set of standards he established for himself and everyone around him. This is replicated by nearly every great leader to date. There are a certain set of qualities that all of these leaders must possess. One of these qualities happens to be integrity. Integrity is doing the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do. It is not about what is done when others are watching, but rather, what is done when no one is watching. Integrity is obviously important to the leader, but imagine how much more at peace the follower will be when they realize they are being led in the right direction. This directs us to the next characteristic: confidence. All leaders must possess confidence. Without this poise, it is impossible to stand up and make the tough decisions that need to be made. However, a leader’s confidence can be a scary thing to a follower. A bold enough leader can lead a group of people straight off of a cliff. It is the balance of confidence and integrity that makes a great leader. Knowing the right thing to do and being audacious enough to do it is what really counts. Once these two behaviors are “checked off,” we come to intuition. Intuition is the ability to understand what is going on around you without hesitation; it’s the problem solving gene. This is why good leaders always seem to know how to fix any problem handed to them. Intuition is the “killer instinct” that every leader must have and must learn to perfect. It is important to be able to make quick decisions, but it is more important to make the right decisions. First, you have to know the right thing to do, be confident enough to do it, and then have the intuition to do it quickly. The driving force behind all of these traits is commitment. It takes real dedication to develop as a leader; the process takes a long time and is hard work. This journey will inevitably lead through both hardships and triumphs. The commitment to “continue on” is the single most significant trait a leader can possess. So, you have to know what to do, be confident enough to do it, possess the instinct to get it done, and have the guts to keep doing it even when it doesn’t work right away. These traits, combined with consistent self-evaluation, will define a good leader. There are a myriad of other characteristics that leaders share, but these four may very well hold the highest value. King Arthur undoubtedly possessed these qualities and matured them along the way. Without this combination of skills it would be impossible to hurdle the obstacles that would eventually come with the station.

Shakespeare wrote in Henry the Fourth, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” Here Shakespeare perfectly captures the shortcomings of leadership. Shortly before this he cites the fact that even the foulest among the kingdom may sleep well at night, but he, a king, cannot rest because of the burdens that are placed upon his shoulders. This is more than poetic; this is the truth behind leading. The success or failure of those who follow you falls on you alone. This is a scary thought, one that can easily deter sleep. Only the few that have truly experienced this understand how heavily this load weighs on a heart. There is a gut- wrenching feeling that comes with making the wrong choice, and a battle constantly wages inside the head. Whether right or wrong, the alternatives are rarely so simple. The fear of failure looms; it is this anxiety that must be turned into energy and used as a shield against apathy. Apathy will dissolve any kingdom. On the other hand, humility is a value that is championed by leaders. Leaders do not take credit for the accomplishments of their followers, but must always take responsibility when something goes wrong. Ultimately it falls onto the leader to exact an issue before it becomes a failure. Often, there come times when leaders must correct one of their followers, and these can be very tough experiences. There is a fine art to correction and criticism. It takes time and practice to learn when and how to criticize. Consider the fact that everyone responds differently to different types of criticism, and it becomes that much harder. It is also worth mentioning that correction is useless if the leader is not setting the correct example. Leading by example is the only way to lead. Followers will do exactly that: follow. Unless a proper example is set, what are they following? Certainly King Arthur would have led from the front. He understood that it was too important not to. Being a leader is no light matter; it takes an enormous amount of effort, but the rewards can be exponential.

The rewards are what everyone envisions when they think of leadership. They see money, power, and even fame. Arthur did not become king for any of these reasons. There is far more to being in front than being on top. There is a certain feeling of self-worth that can only be obtained through sharpening leadership talent. Knowing that everyone in a room is looking to you for guidance can be a rush with its own kind of euphoria. The joy of watching your followers succeed, knowing that you played a role in their success, is immeasurable. In the same way, there is a simple satisfaction in growing and reaching milestones as a leader. Growth and development are some of the most valuable rewards anyone can obtain. No amount of gold could ever compare to the wisdom gained from the enterprise of leadership.

Being a leader means so much more than words can describe; the idea itself is poetic. A leader must have the character of a knight. The trials they face are a bridge that must be crossed, and on the other side of that bridge awaits a journey that will pass through many valleys and traverse as many mountains. In the end, the grail that is sought is not achievement, but enlightenment. Each stanza offers its own unique ballad, complete with verse and refrain. All of these aspects seemingly flawlessly flowing out, not onto paper, but through the eyes of those who watch on as lives are being shaped. Leaders do just that; they shape lives. All the while, they are shaping themselves as well. It takes constant and consistent reflection and meditation. When it is all said and done, leadership is not about the leader, but the follower. Being a leader is not simply a title, it is a calling. The moment that calling is realized begins a new passage in life. You are no longer a king, but a servant to your kingdom.

Author's Bio: 

I am a blossoming writer from the mountains of North Carolina. I have worked in restaurants for my entire adult life and this has afforded me a unique outlook on life. I write in order to give the world the opportunity to see things through my eyes.