How to Become a Daring Leader at Work

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Think and Grow Rich" by Napoleon Hill. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What are the characteristics of a great leader? What makes a person fail as a leader?

The characteristics of a great leader are courage, fairness, self-control, charisma, and empathy. On the other hand, a bad leader will be self-centered, disloyal, unimaginative, and authoritarian. To be successful in leadership, you must adopt the qualities of a good leader.

Read on to discover more about the characteristics of a great leader.

The Personal and Behavioral Characteristics of a Great Leader

You must decide whether you will be a leader or a follower in your chosen field. Most successful leaders began as followers, then became leaders because they were intelligent followers, obtaining specialized knowledge from their leaders.

There are two forms of leadership — leadership by consent and leadership by force. The first is by far the more effective; leadership by force doesn’t last — dictators eventually fall, as Hitler and Stalin did. The relationship between leaders and followers today is a partnership based on cooperation.

To exercise leadership by consent you need to adopt the key characteristics of a great leader:

Personal characteristics of a great leader

  • Courage: This is based on self-knowledge and self-confidence. No one will follow a person who lacks courage.
  • Self control: People who can’t control themselves can’t control others. A leader with self-control is emulated by followers.
  • Sense of fairness: You have to be fair to command respect.
  • Charisma: This is one of the most important characteristics of a great leader. No one will follow a leader who lacks an attractive personality.
  • Empathy. Leaders must have empathy for and understanding of their followers to inspire respect.

Behavioral characteristics of a great leader

  • A grasp of the details of the leadership position. 
  • Decisiveness: This is one of the crucial behavioral characteristics of a great leader. No one can follow an indecisive leader.
  • An effective plan: Your plan is your rudder, which every ship needs. Followers need a plan to follow.
  • A habit of doing more than expected. This inspires respect, credibility, and similar behavior among followers.
  • A grasp of the details of the leadership position. This allows you to use time efficiently —  and delegate when necessary — rather than being too busy when something important must be done.
  • Willingness to take responsibility: Leaders take responsibility for the mistakes of their followers.
  • Cooperation: Leaders practice and inspire cooperation.

The flipside — negative personal qualities and ineffective behaviors — constitutes the most common reasons that would-be leaders fail.

Negative personal qualities of failed leaders

  • Fear of competition from followers: Shows a lack of courage and self-confidence. Leaders train understudies and delegate tasks.
  • Lack of imagination: Without imagination you can’t respond effectively to emergencies and develop effective plans for others to follow.
  • Intemperance: This shows a lack of self-control, and followers will not respect you.
  • Lack of humility: If you’re a great leader, no task should be too small for you to do.
  • Selfishness: Shows a lack of empathy and unwillingness to take responsibility for others’ mistakes. This sparks resentment.

Ineffective behaviors of failed leaders

  • Inability to organize details;
  • Seeking respect for what you know, rather than for what you do.
  • Disloyalty: If you are not loyal to those above and below you, you lose their trust.
  • Authoritarianism and emphasis on title: This is leadership by force instead of by consent, and it ultimately fails.
The 5 Major Characteristics of a Great Leader

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Joseph Adebisi

Joseph has had a lifelong obsession with reading and acquiring new knowledge. He reads and writes for a living, and reads some more when he is supposedly taking a break from work. The first literature he read as a kid were Shakespeare's plays. Not surprisingly, he barely understood any of it. His favorite fiction authors are Tom Clancy, Ted Bell, and John Grisham. His preferred non-fiction genres are history, philosophy, business & economics, and instructional guides.

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