For instance, it merits noting that studies about whether or not organizational or societal leaders are born or made run among the most widely debate topics within such area of interest. And surely, there can be a lot of reasons which can help explain why people take a keen interest in discovering the exponential rise of great leaders. For one, the extraordinariness that envelopes the identity of key personalities, it must be argued, somehow demands extensive studies relative to their genealogy and upbringing.
But while definitive answers pertaining to what really constitutes a great leader remain largely inconclusive, that these persons possess common characteristic traits is a fact which cannot be contested. In other words, persons who are recognized as leaders possess characteristic traits which help make them who they are in the face of the society they are being recognized. As such, there are different leadership traits identifiable. But this paper seeks to limit the discussion into four distinct – but related – leadership traits so as to illustrate the point in contention.
Four Leadership Traits Exhibited by Four Different Leaders
In the first place, it is certainly not for nothing that leaders are almost always identified as figures of authority from their respective communities. Conversely, authority belongs to one of the most defining characteristics of those who are esteemed to be great leaders. For while it is true that authority, as a concept, is significantly distinct from the connotation of leadership, the two terms are nevertheless taken to be interchangeable in common parlance.
Authority on the one hand refers to “the power to influence or command” a behavior or conduct of affairs (Merriam-Webster, 2009). By way of contrast, leadership pertains to a state or position whereby a person is “empowered” to command or lead (Merriam-Webster, 2009). The striking similarities are therefore palpable; both terms touch on the reality of influence or power – i. e. , authority pertains to the quality of the power exuded by a leader, while leadership refers to one’s position in respect to his or her authority. To this end, it can be argued that authority, or being authoritative, is a characteristic trait of a leader.
Bill Gates can be cited as a particular example to illustrate this point. Bill Gates started his company literally from the ashes. But the manner by which he decisively handled the affairs of his company – i. e. , Microsoft Corporation – has made him a suitable exemplification of authoritative leadership. Concretely, it was believed that Bill Gates had to personally oversee the operations of his company by applying strict adherence to the “vision” which he had to “further” Microsoft’s “advancement” (Authoritative Leaders, 2006).
In ways more than one, his approach had surely paid off. Nowhere in our recent history can we perhaps witness a man who, while at the onset had only a handful of ideas to offer, was able to rise exponentially into the echelons of the world’s richest in so little a time as had the otherwise authoritative Bill Gates. Another salient characteristic trait of a leader lays in his or her being able to offer inspiration to the people. Put in other words, leaders are able to inspire people into action or towards rightful decisions.
This is an important facet of leadership because a leader’s ability to move his or her colleagues into action stems not simply from a forceful display of authority, but also from his or her ability to offer encouragement to people who are merely waiting to be tapped. Herein, it is necessary to make mention that two distinct approaches to leadership take shape from this contention. The first is a type of leadership that is exercised by wielding considerable amount of authority towards subjects.
The second meanwhile is a kind of leadership that is able to invite people to action by way of proper encouragement. If only to mention, the second facet belongs to leaders who are more inspiring than authoritative. These are the type of leaders who are able to move without much force. Some thinkers call this gift a leader’s “catalytic” trait. As the term suggests, catalytic trait pertains how leaders are able to “get people going” and move them out of their comfort zones so as to work for specific goals (Widener, 2000).
The inspirations they lend become welcome means for people to get their acts together towards achieving greater goals. A good example of an inspiring leader is Barack Obama. Many commentators have correctly pointed out that his historic ascent to America’s highest office is a glaring testimony not only of his charismatic comportment but also of the irresistible inspiration which his personality exudes. In other words, Barack Obama beat the odds of long standing political stereotypes because he was able to inspire millions of people.
Specifically, he inspired a large majority of the American public to vote for the change he represents. The massive manner in which the voters turned into voting stations shows how much his inspiration has been taken well. Just the same, we can take the recently concluded elections as a phenomenon that shows that Barack Obama’s inspiration was made to resonate across the continent. He therefore became a catalyst for people to break the unhealthy cycle of lethargy by proceeding to voting places and letting their voices be heard.
Third, it is also good to mention that courage is another distinct trait which leaders possess. For one, courageous people are most often held in esteem within any given community. Courage, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (2009), implies “firmness of one’s will” as well as, to a certain degree, tenacity in facing dangers and perils. Courage is a virtue in that it is often honed or nurtured in one’s personality. In other words, we learn how it is to be courageous in many life-defining circumstances.
This is because all persons fear something, or some situation, one way or another. Courage therefore is not wholesale fearlessness. In fact, it does not imply an absence of fear all together. To the contrary, courageous people – while they experience a certain amount of fear as well – are the ones who are able to successfully confront and handle fearful circumstances with firmness, if not with grace, and a spirit of resolution. Much too often, leaders earn the respect of people by putting into play a fair amount of courage in facing tall challenges.
This is why, courage is also translated as a leader’s willingness to embrace challenges. Far more critical, it is manifested in the extraordinary display of keenness in taking chances or considering risks. Courage is certainly gleaned from a leader who ventures upon “new ideas or ways” (Widener, 2000). Conversely, it is also seen whenever he or she is able to, after being able to distinguish between manageable risks and compromising moves, take a stand to conserve status quos if only to protect the interest of the populace.
There are good reasons to suppose that Martin Luther King, Jr. best exemplifies the virtue of courage; notably when such concept is framed within the larger perspective of great leadership. By the measure in which history has accorded King a place in the books, it would appear that courage became his lasting contribution to the American society. For despite having to bear harsh criticisms and fierce opposition from many fronts, Martin Luther King, Jr. did well in handling many of his life’s frightening circumstances.
He, of course, feared losing his life, as indeed hurting his loved ones, while taking on the promethean struggle to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination palpable in the American society back then. But instead of giving in to mounting pressures, Martin Luther King, Jr. saw the wisdom in confronting unwarranted deflections to his cause. In fact, his courage culminates in the supreme act which he takes on to himself thus far – i. e. , to face the pangs of death in the name of an idea he so dearly espoused.
Fourth, integrity represents another characteristic trait, if not a necessary condition for great leadership. In fact, it is not without good reasons to suppose that great leadership always finds itself juxtaposed with moral integrity. This is because people are most likely to be encouraged, inspired or moved to follow a leader on account of his or her trustworthiness or uprightness. Authentic leadership stems from people’s recognition of their leaders’ worth. Without such recognition, obedience rendered to an authority can be reduced to fearful submission or uncritical embrace of power-wielding figures.
By way of contrast, leaders who are known to possess a moral ascendancy to lead their people are too often regarded by history with much respect and high esteem. Fundamentally, integrity pertains to the soundness of a leader’s character. At the very least, it requires that leaders “do what they say”, or are able to manifest concretely in their lives the “wisdom” which they happen to eloquently preach (Widener, 2000). It too is seen whenever leaders are able to make good of their promises. Of the many notable leaders in the field, the late Pope John Paul II may be taken as a prime exemplification of this leadership trait.
During his lifetime, the late Pontiff had (as most leaders do) received a fair amount of criticism on account of the perceived conservatism he embraced in respect to approaching divisive issues. Crucial to the issues which were hurled against him laid in his stringent opposition to abortion, assisted suicide and euthanasia, human cloning and stem cell research; scientific researches which, according to him, seriously endanger the sanctity of human lives. The courageous Pontiff, in a manner of speaking, stood his ground to his final breath.
Despite suffering Parkinson’s disease – i. e. , something that significantly impaired his mobility and speech – he chose to embrace the toll of human aging that turn back from the teaching about fundamental sanctity of human life; a teaching he personally made sure was etched in the pages of the Church’s moral teachings before he died. This way, he has earned the respect of many world leaders and common people alike. He became a living testament of the values and wisdom which he invited the world to partake.
In the ultimate analysis therefore, the leadership of Pope John Paul II was marked with a consistent display of his integrity and trustworthiness, notwithstanding criticism and opposition from many societal fronts. Conclusion By way of conclusion, it merits reaffirming that leadership traits are readily identifiable when they are manifested by a person or persons in authority. As the discussions suggest, it matters little whether a person comes from a line of notable leaders or is simply hailed into an authoritative position by virtue of exigencies.
What proves to be essential in the discussion lays the fact that most well-known leaders manifest and share certain characteristic traits. This paper explored on just four distinct but related traits: being authoritative, inspiring, courageous and trustworthy. Bill Gates of the Microsoft Corporation was deemed to be a representative of authoritative leaders. President-elect Barack Obama, it was suggested, best typified inspirational leaders. The great Martin Luther King, Jr. for his part exemplified courage.
Last but certainly not least, the late Pontiff, John Paul II, was argued as history’s enduring figure of leadership with integrity. Surely though, there are more traits that can be cited for further discussion. But in the desire to limit and put substance into the otherwise brief discussion, this paper expounded on the four attributes by collocating them with known personalities as suitable exemplifications.
Authoritative Leaders. (2006). Retrieved 03 January 2009, from http://www. money- zine. com/Career-Development/Leadership-Skill/Authoritative-Leaders/ authority. (2009).
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Widener, C. (2000). The Seven Character Traits of Extraordinary Leaders. Retrieved 03 January 2009, from http://top7business. com/? Top-7-Character-Traits-Of-Extraordinary- Leaders&id=442