What Is Leadership?

As leadership expert Warren Bennis once stated, "leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality." Great leaders possess dazzling social intelligence, a zest for change, and above all, the ability to set their sights on the things that truly merit attention. Not a bad skill set for the rest of us, either. It is the job of leaders to develop a vision—establish what matters and articulate why—set direction, and inspire others. Leadership does not rely on one’s title, seniority, or ability to exert power. Rather, leaders emerge at any level; they cultivate a desire in those with whom they collaborate to strive toward a common goal—which can be accomplished successfully through any number of styles of being. Recent research on leadership skills establishes the increasing importance of inner resources such as self-awareness and self-mastery.

The Traits of a Great Leader

The leaders who emerge today likely possess a few key personality traits. Those characteristics include being sociable, ambitious, curious, and well-adjusted—and those traits may bear more weight even than intelligence. Successful leaders also tend to embody integrity and emotional intelligence, characteristics that support cultivation of a fair, balanced, and enjoyable professional team. For most organizations, the costs of turnover and low morale are too high to tolerate for long leaders who misuse their power. Every leader develops a unique style, informed both by specific personality traits and general cultural tone. Genetics influence leadership ability, likely due to inherited personality traits, but environmental factors such as education play a significant role as well.

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