- Last Updated: Tuesday, 06 April 2021
One of those intangible characteristics that people often seek to obtain in their careers is leadership qualities. People ask of themselves: Do I have what it takes to be a leader in this organization?
On the flip side, they might think they have what it takes to be a leader, but are sometimes left wondering: Does my boss see the leadership qualities that I possess?
Leadership Theory Studies
To answer either of these questions there needs to be an understanding of what it means to be a leader. The subject is quite intriguing, and many scholars have devoted their careers to the development of various leadership theories.
History tells of many great leaders; men and women that have risen above the rest, and accomplished what seem like impossible tasks or changes to society. There is no doubt that humankind will continue to be challenged in the future and, as the term goes, history tends to repeat itself.
So therein rests the reason for the study of leadership, and the qualities of those individuals. If scholars can describe these characteristics, and organizations train their employees, then solving the problems the future holds should be easier than it was in the past.
Leadership Qualities versus Styles
Leadership qualities are not the same as leadership styles. In fact, the basic study of this topic includes the following hierarchy:
- Qualities: characteristics that are the fundamental building blocks of a leader’s persona.
- Leadership Style: the logical bundling of qualities that, when assembled, help to define a style the leader practices.
- Situational Leadership: alignment of styles to the social, political or work environment surrounding the leader.
Given this understanding, it is easier to visualize where the qualities themselves fit into the wide variety of modern leadership models.
Fundamental Qualities of a Leader
Figuring out if someone has the right qualities to be considered a leader in an organization then becomes one of sorting through the literature to develop the list of the most important qualities found in leaders. Fortunately, the five components of emotional intelligence seem to cover the majority of these characteristics except one: intelligence.
In the story told by Goleman in his book, he talks about the components of emotional intelligence. Goleman argued this theory accounts for characteristics that are beyond pure intellect. It is therefore fitting to include intelligence as the first, and essential, quality of a leader.
Business acumen, political savvy, a deep understanding of social issues, knowledge – these are all ways to describe intelligence. Effective leaders have a good understanding of what needs to get done, and how to go about changing things.
A form of intelligence that goes a long way in describing what separates smart people from leaders is emotional intelligence. That is to say, there are more smart people in this world than there are effective leaders. Scholars might not agree with everything written about emotional intelligence, but it is hard to find a quality of a leader that is not described in these five components:
- Self Awareness: the ability to recognize and understand one’s own emotions, moods, and motivations. Self awareness is the talent of understanding oneself, which leaders must be able to do before they can begin to understand the motivation, moods, and emotions of others.
- Self Regulation: the ability to control one’s own emotions, counterproductive impulses, and moods. Self regulation is the leadership quality of remaining in control of emotions.
- Motivation: a drive and passion that goes beyond money or status. Motivation and leadership are often tightly coupled when an organization is realizing above-average results.
- Empathy: the ability to really understand another person’s point of view. Empathy is different than sympathy, which is the emotion of feeling sorry for someone else.
- Social Skills: the ability to manage relationships and networking. “Social skills” is used to describe a leader’s ability to get along with others in the organization.
Keep in mind that being a leader often involves striking a balance, and the same can be said about the qualities that are described above. While it’s possible to study this topic in more detail, the components described by emotional intelligence and intellect will be themes throughout the literature. Anyone that thinks they’re a leader can measure themselves against the above components; with the understanding that life presents many learning opportunities and that leaders are made, not born.
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