By: Ken Austin
There are many attributes that great leaders possess and ones that you too can focus on in order to boost yourself to greater roles of responsibility to others. Below are four examples:
Skill in Dealing with People: This is obviously related to intelligence and judgment in action, as well as to understanding of followers. At the heart of skill in dealing with people is social perceptiveness; the ability to appraise accurately the readiness or resistance of followers to move in a given direction, to know when dissension or confusion is undermining the group's will to act, to make the most of the motives that are there, and to understand the sensitivities.
I once hired a middle manager solely on the basis of high verbal intelligence. His skills with people proved to be virtually nonexistent. He made ill-considered and hasty promises. He was bumptious but not brave, obsequious to superiors, ungracious to peers, and given to nasty altercations with subordinates. It was a lesson for me.
Physical Vitality and Stamina: If one asks people to list the attributes of leaders, they are not likely to mention a high energy level or physical durability, yet these attributes are essential. Top leaders have stamina and great reserves of vitality. Even the leader of a neighborhood organization is typical to stand far above the average in sheer energy, energy to convene meetings after a hard day's work, to chair long and heated debates, to represent groups before the city council, and so on.
Leaders may suffer from a physical disability (for example, Franklin D. Roosevelt's poliomyelitis) or episodes of illness (Elsenhower's heart attack) but they cannot over any significant period of time lack vitality. Most of Julius Caesar's extraordinary gifts have been commented on but his energy is rarely mentioned. Conquering Gaul and at the same time writing books about it, invading Britain, chasing Pompey across the Adriatic, fighting the political battles of Rome, dallying with Cleopatra and countless less famous ladies—it must have taken energy!
Understanding of Followers/Constituents and Their Needs: Leaders must understand the various constituencies with whom they work. The late Bear Bryant of the University of Alabama, one of the all-time greats among college football coaches, once said to me, "I know my players better than they know themselves. How else could I get the best out of them?"
Intelligence and Judgment-in-Action: There are bright people who lack judgment altogether (which may be the source of the observation that "there's nothing worse than a stupid person with a brilliant mind"). There are able analysts who cannot move from analysis to action. And then there is the failing General Carl Spaatz had in mind when he said of one of his fellow officers in World War II, "He thinks things through very carefully before he goes off half-cocked." Such people are unlikely to attain leadership.