What Is Leadership?

"Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality," Warren Bennis once stated. Great leaders are often credited with possessing high social intelligence, a zest for change, and above all, the ability to set their sights on the things that truly merit attention. But those are desirable skills for everyone else, too.

It is the responsibility of leaders to develop a vision for the people and institutions they guide. They must establish what matters and explain why, so they can set direction, and inspire others.

But leadership does not depend on one’s title, seniority, or ability to exert power. Leaders can emerge at any level if they can cultivate a desire in those with whom they collaborate to strive toward a common goal, which can be accomplished successfully through any number of approaches. And recent research on leadership skills confirms the increasing importance of inner resources such as self-awareness and self-mastery.

The Qualities of a Great Leader

Leaders emerging today likely possess a few key personality traits, including sociability, ambition, and curiosity—and these traits may be more relevant to the role than intelligence. Successful leaders also tend to embody integrity and emotional intelligence, characteristics that support cultivation of a fair, balanced, and satisfied professional team.

For most organizations, the costs of turnover and low morale are too high to be able to tolerate leaders who misuse power for very long. Every leader develops a unique personal style, informed both by specific personality traits and a general cultural tone.

Genetics also appear to influence leadership ability, due to inherited personality traits, but environmental factors such as education play a significant role as well.

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