Friday, September 14, 2007

Qualities of Leader III

When I listed the qualities that I would like to see in a leader, I got some critical remarks from a lady who teaches ‘Leadership’ to some of the top companies in the world. She decided that a leader by its innate definition has to be good, and therefore people like Hitler, etc, should not be considered leaders. Hmm… may be, one should call him Fuhrer then! [More about such instructors later]

Anyway, I am beginning to realize that some people are a bit confused by my definitions. My list of qualities did not come out of the blue, trying to satisfy 4Es, 9Cs, or 7Ps, or something like that. It was not a deliberate attempt to come up with exact seven either. It was not like I had to think too much to put the list together. I have been dealing with such leadership issues on a day-to-day basis in my organization. I had been fascinated by the topic of leadership for quite long and hence I guess it was an understanding that I had taken for granted.

To illustrate my understandings, I have created these scenarios.

First Quality

Imagine two people X and Y. Imagine both are honest and highly educated. Both are genuinely nice people and quite efficient. They have consistently delivered on what was expected of them. But X can take strong and bold decisions and execute them while Y is always unsure of which path to follow and is usually indecisive at every crossroad. Who will make a better leader?

That’s the first quality. “Ability to take strong, bold and quick decisions and follow them up with concrete action.”

Second Quality

Now, imagine there are two people Z and W (who are similar to X from the previous case). Both are able to take strong, bold and quick decisions and are able to follow them up with concrete action. But Z will not own up responsibility when things go wrong as an outcome of his earlier decisions. He is adept at finding the scapegoats for things that go wrong. He blames others for wrong results. Whereas W would step forward to say, ‘I take the responsibility for this mess. It was my decision that landed us up in this trouble’. Who will make a better leader?

That’s the second quality. “Ability to take responsibility for one’s actions- both successes and failures (especially the failures).”

Third Quality

Now, imagine there are two people U and V (who are similar to W from the previous case). Both own up responsibility, especially the failures. U expects his subordinates to behave in certain way but does not actually practice what he preaches. He expects everyone to work late, but he consistently leaves early. He thinks that the rules that apply to others do not apply to him. While he preaches diversity, he does not practice it himself. While he preaches promotion of excellence, he ensures certain excellent people are not promoted to eliminate threat to him. On the other hand, V practices what he preaches. He believes that whatever he does, even when no one is watching, is setting an example. He ensures that he makes a constant habit to set right examples in all his actions, behaviors and decisions. Who will make a better leader?

That’s how I come up with the third quality. “Lead by setting examples.”

Fourth Quality

Now, imagine there are two people S and T (who are similar to V from the previous case). Both lead by example. They practice what they preach. But S is someone who has difficulty in convincing people to follow his direction. He is not able to inspire people to roll up the sleeves and act. He is not able to influence his superior officers to make his case. Whereas T can inspire his team, can bring in the right talent to do the right kind of work, hold the team together, and influence people to follow his direction. Who will make a better leader?

That’s how I come up with the fourth quality. “Ability to pull up resources, inspire people, gather momentum, and change opinions, to get things done. (This is not efficiency).”

Fifth Quality

Now, imagine there are two people Q and R (who are similar to T from the previous case). Q does not delegate responsibility. He wants to make all the decisions. He wants the information to flow only through him. He believes that any delegation might result in loss of power for him. He works hard, overworks in fact, and wants to participate in all decision-making activities. On the other hand, R usually empowers the right people allowing them to make decisions. He encourages them to take decisions, and in turn encourages them to own up responsibility for such decisions. He congratulates them on their successes and questions them on failures. Who makes a better leader?

That’s how I come up with the fifth quality. “Ability to delegate responsibilities to the right people and empower them to take decisions.”

Sixth Attribute

The next attribute, integrity, is one of the most confusing qualities that I have known so far. In my experiences many top leaders of big organizations have not been able to articulate the definition of integrity. When a CEO of a top Indian company was asked ‘what’s integrity?’ in an open forum, he completely fumbled on the answer, and kept repeating the word ‘integrity’ while trying to define it. He completely lost the audience making it confusing for everyone.

According to me, it is the strength of the character; it’s the ability to stay the course; it’s the ability to be consistent in your frame of definition. That character could be good or bad, moral or immoral, virtuous or not. One of the best examples I could think of is from the movie, Scent of a woman. Please read through the ‘Dialogue’ section.

While two people could have the above listed qualities to make leaders, a person who displays integrity is bound to go long way in leading his people. This is not a necessary quality, but a desired attribute. There could be leaders satisfying the first five qualities while failing on this.

That’s the sixth attribute. “Integrity – strength of character in face of all upheavals, downfalls and crises. Especially, the ability to stay the course when everyone else is ready to run and hide!”

[As I began to google it up, I found a good explanation here on Integrity (the kind of definition I agree with).]

Seventh Attribute

The next attribute, vision, is what makes a good leader a great leader. Bigger the vision bigger the influence!

Hence the seventh attribute. “Ability to think big (Vision).”


I do not profess to be an expert on this subject. These are my learning, my own way. I could be grossly wrong but these definitions are good enough for me.

The qualities I listed here are not to be seen in a sequence. They are not in decreasing or increasing order. I call the first 5 as desired qualities and the last 2 as desired attributes. A person could have only some of the qualities and be a great man. There are philosophers, teachers, catalysts, and kingmakers, who have some of these qualities but are not necessarily leaders.

We could talk about other attributes, such as honesty, efficiency, goodness, education, morality, humility, etc. Aren’t these qualities desirable in a leader? These are good to have, may be, but these attributes by themselves do not make a leader. Many a times, we want a leader to be moral, which is quite subjective. Osama Bin Laden and George Bush (Junior) would satisfy all the 5 qualities that I listed here and even the other two attributes, but they might be immoral according to certain societies while they are moral according to few others. In the same way, humility is expected of certain leaders but is it a quality by which a leader is made? Not really. Some leaders are humble while few are downright arrogant.


  1. X is George W who took the decision and sticks by it with conviction.

    It would be interesting to see how your series of leadership articles shape. So far, it is add a little bit of this, add a little bit of that, deep fry and out comes a leader ;-).

  2. It's scary to see Bush Jr. being mentioned as a leader with positive attributes and qualities!! I hope you are talking about the same Bush that I'm thinking of - the bumbling, lying, in denial, incompetent idiot who believes that if lies are shouted out loudly and frequently, they become truths. He would be a perfect example of what a leader should not be like.

  3. Chirkut:
    Usually I am accused of writing at lengths. I usually do that so that I don't have explain myself in 'comments' each and every sentence I write.

    It's scary to see Bush Jr. being mentioned as a leader with positive attributes and qualities!!

    The reason I highlighted 'positive' in the above sentence of yours is to tell you that you have not understood what I wrote.

    I never qualified leadership qualities or attributes (in these article) with positive, negative, moral, immoral, good or bad.

    George Bush Jr. is a leader. Whether he is a good leader or bad is up to you to judge. I am not judging anyone here.

    Adolf Hitler, though an extremely harmful person who ever walked on this earth, fits the bill of a leader, and much more than any one else. He is a good example of a bad leader, but he is a leader no matter what.

    I am not sure if you are getting this.

  4. Your words from the post:
    The next attribute, vision, is what makes a good leader a great leader.

    Your words from the comment:
    I never qualified leadership qualities or attributes (in these article) with positive, negative, moral, immoral, good or bad.

    I rest my case.

  5. Oh, and Bush is a President (probably one of the worst), not a leader. There's a difference.

  6. Also from your post, repeated many times:
    Who will make a better leader?

    I'd think that "better" is a qualification. No?

  7. "better" in this context is - if X and Y are two people who has more leadership qualities than the other. It does not talk about whether is a good person or a bad person, moral or immoral, humble or arrogant!

  8. Oh, and Bush is a President (probably one of the worst), not a leader. There's a difference.

    I wrote this article to combat such subjective interpretations of a leader. You can write your own blog on what constitutes a leader! :)

  9. An important quality of a good leader is "being a good listener". Folks who worked with Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey talk about the great attention and focus they receive when they are with these great leaders.

    Sujai: Looking at the responses made by you on the comments, it looks like you need to improve on your listening capabilities.

    BTW, Here is my list of leadership qualities -

    1. Ability to engage and inspire others (needs listening)
    2. Character
    3. Authenticity
    4. Truth

    - Buddhist wishing universal happiness.

  10. well sujai..i too agree that entire lead india campaign is a scum..i mean they are nothing but once again bunch of indian elitist who are show casing that there achievements(which is actually to become lackey of developed countries) are the one which will take india to the golden period. By looking their faces,one can say that they are not leaders but followers. Leader is the one who will always stand out by his own action or karma. Thats why i will like to add that our nation,bharat or india as known by the generation after 1947 needs people who can stand on their own firm ground,not merely following and getting in a rat race. Dhirubhai ambani,although unethical(and in a way what he did was response to those days corruption) is a leader,he actually made indians believe that we can also innovate,set rules,not follow. Then there is sachin tendulkar.a batting genius,though failed as captain but never played unethical on field against opposition, well our history has lot more leaders.

  11. I also would like to add some qualities of leader as we are the citizen of a free country and hence,have a freedom of speach and thought:

    1) Leaders should stand on their own action without finding scapegoats.

    2) They should have a vision(same as yours)

    3) A Leader must be able to make the impossible the possible.

    4) Leader is one who creates opportunity not waits for opportunity.

    5) Leaders are inspired to create a legacy. Thats why leaders still remain alive although physically they are no more amongst us.

  12. One more quality of leader,

    6) Leaders can be either be loved or hated,but cannot be ignored.


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