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Traits and Skills of a Good Leader

Being a member of the academe gives one innate responsibility as a leader. Distinguished as a moral compass of sorts, he is looked up to by his students and fellow scholars to come up with infallible decisions on life and learning. However, it must be remembered that as human beings, mistakes are easier to commit and leaders are but human.

I view leadership with learning as a task imbued with openness. A good leader’s understanding of various perspectives enables him to broaden his horizons. From there, growth is inevitable. Accepting the fact that one does not know everything makes a leader continually in search of truth. In research reported by French, Simpson and Harvey (2001), a good leader is equipped with ‘negative capability. This means that although leadership is based on knowing and is manifested through activity, work and achievement, the dimension of “not knowing“ and not being in control of one’s situation is respectable as well (French, Simpson & Harvey, 2001).

This construct can be interpreted as being humble enough to admit when one doesn’t really know instead of putting up a façade of being all-knowing. This also means that a good leader is always open to learning something new, and not haughty enough to claim that he is already “made”.

Being human and fallible is one trait that all members of the group share, and what better quality to relate to than that? Group members will even feel important enough to share the burden of thinking up solutions to problems with their leader. However, the risk of this, in a diverse work environment, maybe losing credibility with those who don’t share the same sentiment. Some may expect perfection from a leader and others may appreciate humanity. It is now up to the leader to discern how to handle such a conflict.

It is human nature to want attention and adulation to oneself. However, a leader prioritizes learning for himself and for his followers over the prestige of being hailed as a leader on top of everything. In my work as a higher education practitioner, I am immersed in a learning environment where I am expected to guide learning-thirsty learners to the wellspring of knowledge. I welcome a wide variety of opinions, perspectives, and insights and dwell in the wisdom it inspires. I value thought-provoking questions raised by young students and join them in their journey of seeking answers. I endeavor to be a lifelong learner.

Another learning task a good leader needs to learn is collective leadership. Because he knows everyone keeps evolving and finding answers to questions, a leader knows when to yield to someone more adept than him in some matters. Within a group, all members assume some leadership responsibility. Each member subordinates himself to the group’s goals and interests.

A good leader decides what is best for his group even if painful decisions have to be made. He is ready to sacrifice his convenience for the good of the majority.

He is not after his glory but the welfare and triumph of the whole group. His mettle is tested when times get difficult and everyone looks up to him to lead them out of the dark.

A good leader has initiative. He tries to be a good example to his followers and treads a path where no one dares to go. He is effective in empowering others with encouragement. He boosts his member’s confidence and self-esteem. He is a source of hope and inspiration to others.

A good leader has a clear vision of where he is going and sets directions to others towards that vision. He collaborates with other people regardless of their backgrounds on ways and means to reach their goals and not focus the authority on himself.

In doing so, he empowers them to be confident in their abilities and motivates them to welcome challenges and opportunities. Because of his positive influence, he gains the respect of everyone to follow his lead while pursuing a common mission for the growth and development of the organization (Leithwood & Riehl,2003).

Clark (2008) discusses a study reported by Lamb and McKee (2004) that concludes that the most important keys to effective leadership are trust and confidence as well as effective communication. This is shown in three critical areas. One is in the area of helping people understand the organization’s overall strategies. Another is in helping understand how they can contribute to meeting the organizational goals and objectives. The last area where effective communication must take place is in sharing information with employees on how their group is performing in relation to the organizational objectives.

Kouzes and Posner (1987) explain the processes on how great leaders can shine even more. They advise leaders to challenge the process and improve on the areas in the process that needs it. Leaders are also recommended to inspire a vision that can be easily understood by their followers. Leaders are also enablers. They must be good at encouraging people to act on their own by providing them with the tools and methods to solve their problems.

It also cannot be said often enough that leaders have to be good models, most especially when the going gets tough. They should exhibit an attitude and behavior of positivism that their followers can emulate. I believe that having a sensible and stable moral and ethical base is a priority. Michael Fullan, a leading advocate in the study of educational leadership claims that a leader should have a moral purpose.

This moral purpose pushes him to act to make a positive difference in the lives of the people around him and society in general (Fullan, 2004). Fullan believes that having a moral purpose is the key element in the success and sustainability of organizations. People who work for organizations with leaders possessing moral purpose are enabled to work hard because they feel that their potentials are expanded and their individual goals are achieved. This encourages them to stay on with the organization for further personal and professional growth. “Moral purpose infuses an organization with passion and purpose since workers become eager to know the enabling purpose of their work” (Fullan, 2004, p. 26).

Another component of effective leadership given by Fullan and which I believe in is the ability to establish and maintain harmonious relationships with diverse people and groups, especially with those different from themselves. He is the glue that fuses the group with diplomacy and the commonality of goals. He possesses high emotional intelligence, maturity, and understanding of people coming from various backgrounds. In doing so, a leader does himself a favor because he takes the opportunity of learning from various personal backgrounds.

I confidently believe that being a leader entails openness to learning even to the point of sharing leadership roles with people he learns from and learns from him.


Clark, D. (2008) Concepts of Leadership in Hutter, A.D. (1982) Poetry in psychoanalysis: Hopkins, Rosetti, Winnicott. International Review of Psycho-Analysis 9, 303-16. Web.

French, R., Simpson, P. & Harvey, C. (2001), ‘Negative capability’: the key to creative leadership. Presented at the International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organizations 2001 Symposium. Web.

Fullan, M. (2004) Leading in a Culture of Change Personal Action Guide and Workbook. Jossey-Bass.

Kouzes, J. M. & Posner, B. Z. (1987). The Leadership Challenge. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Lamb, L. F., McKee, K. B. (2004). Applied Public Relations: Cases in Stakeholder Management. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Associates. Routledge U.S. Army Handbook (1973). Military Leadership.

Liethwood, K.A. & Riehl, C. (2003) What We Know About Successful School Leadership. NCSL.


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