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The Qualities of a True Leader By Tristan Loo

Editorial Commentary: While I'm not keen on the use of the word "true" in relationship to describing leaders, I think this is an excellent and fairly detailed coverage of some of the qualities (and by implication, behaviors) that are and should be attached to effective leadership. If you are looking for a handy reminder to assist you in your own leadership development, this might be worth saving.

"Leadership is the art of getting someone to do something you want done because he wants to do it."
-Dwight D. Eisenhower

The highly successful people in the world are naturally leaders in their respective fields. If you want to realize any level of success in your own life, then you need to make the commitment towards becoming a leader too. Focus on becoming great at what you love to do in life and then step up to the plate and inspire others to do the same. Leadership is about creating a strong foundation within yourself that is able to support and nurture those that are weaker than you are.

A very important distinction is that a leader is not a title or a position. Kevin Cashman, a leadership coach and the CEO of LeaderSource, says that "Too many people separate the act of leadership from the leader. They see leadership as something that they do, rather than as an expression of who they are." The difference between someone in the position of power, such as a manager, executive, politician, etc. and a leader is that a positionally-powerful person can get people to do what they want merely because they have the power to levy punishment if their followers don't comply.

While this can get people to do what they want, it also harbors resentment because it pushes people towards action by the threat of causing pain in their lives. A leader, on the other hand, inspires and motivates their followers to take action on their own volition without creating that negative aura of threat. True leaders possess a passionate and powerful vision of what they want to accomplish and they share that vision with as many people as they can. The title of Manager is simply a position, but that title in itself does not make the person a leader. In reality, the person at the very bottom of the organizational structure can be a leader even in absence of any authority. A leader inspires hope within their followers and it's that vision of hope that makes a true leader more powerful than any person of authority. This article will describe the important qualities that a person needs to possess in order to be a true passionate leader.

"Before you become a leader, success is all about growing you. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others."
-Jack Welch

Be a Visionary

People will only follow a vision that is perfectly clear in their minds, therefore, it's extremely important that you yourself must possess a crystal clear vision of what you want to accomplish and the direction that you want to go. If your vision is the slightest bit blurry in your mind, then how can you expect to lead people if you don't know where you are going yourself? You must be able to see the big picture and then develop the plan on how to get there because in order to lead people, you have to keep things simple enough for them to take action on and you must be able to convey your vision to them. Develop a statement of purpose for yourself and for your company if you don't already have one. Continue to rewrite it each day until it becomes something that you are passionate about and when you speak it out loud, you feel emotionally charged and empowered. Always remember that vague goals will always produce vague results. Share your vision with your team and let them take ownership in that dream by showing them how it can benefit their lives. Remember that people don't follow other people-they follow the vision that the chosen leader is committed towards. Take any great leader throughout history and study their life and you will undoubtedly see a truly great visionary.

Be Passionate About What You Do

A leader must possess the highest level of passion for their vision in order to inspire those around them with that same level of energy. A leader who does not demonstrate passion for what they're doing will instead emit a negative energy to their team, which will cause chaos and de-motivation towards their goals. Always be passionate about what you are doing and strive to share that passion with others. Remember the saying, "Energy flows where attention goes."

Be True to Yourself

Always strive to display the highest degree of integrity that you can. Integrity is simply the act of being the same on the inside as you claim to be on the outside. People want to believe that you practice in your own life what you preach to them. The lack of integrity is the reason why politicians have such a tarnished reputation today because some of them lacked the integrity that people desire from their leaders. Most people fail becoming leaders because they display a poor level of integrity. They put on a false illusion of leadership in front of their team, but after the show is over, when they are away from the spotlight, their personal lives are anything but inspirational. A true leader possesses a strong foundation from within and it's that foundation which supports the great teams that they build. True leaders must possess the highest level of integrity. Integrity is congruency of actions and intentions-doing what you say and acting the same on the outside as you do on the inside. Leaders are thought focusers. They make the confusing-clear. Therefore, the leader themselves must be polarized towards one focal point or else they will run the risk of confusing their followers and dissolving that focused energy that was once a vision. So follow the age old rule of do what you say and say what you do.

Be Courageous

Rudolph Giuliani once said that a hero is not one who is fearless. A true hero is one who feels the fear and yet moves forward regardless. A leader is a hero who must be strong enough to face their fears of failing, kick it aside, and move forward anyways. Leaders realize not to cover or hide their fear, but rather, they acknowledge it like everyone else, but they also manage their fears rather than allow their fears to manage them. Remember that even the best leaders make mistakes, but what separates the great leaders from the mediocre ones is that the great leaders are willing to admit they made a mistake and they use it as a tool to create a better future for themselves and their team. Mediocre leaders, on the other hand, live in self-deceit and allow their ego to get in the way of doing what's right for themselves and everyone who follows them. They stand firm in their decision that they've made, even when they know that it's the wrong one and they would rather sink with the ship and take their team with them, rather than admit a mistake. The fear of failure is something that holds 90% of people from achieving their maximum potential in life. A true leader is one who makes a decision and moves forwards and sees failures not as failures, but as lessons for their future success.

Be Action-Oriented

The universe doesn't reward people for what they know, it rewards people for what they do and leaders are doers. Leaders are geared towards taking action and they realize that for a team to come together, it requires moving from potential to action. The decision is yours to make. While making a decision might lead towards failure, the act of failing to make a decision will absolutely guarantee failure. It's important to remember that leaders rarely have 100% of the information needed to make an informed decision. Those leaders who wait until they have all the information before they act, usually act too late. A true leader is intuitive and listens to their "gut instincts" because it usually gives them the right answer when uncertainty exists.

Be a Builder of Outstanding Teams

In any team sport, it's not always the case where the team with the best players win. Exceptionally talented players are important, but it's not as important as how those players work as a collective whole, as a single and powerful unified force. Therefore, it stands to reason that most of your time as a leader needs to be committed towards selecting, evaluating, coaching and strategically placing your players. As a leader, you must be a great team-builder because if people don't work together on a common goal, then that mission will ultimately fail. Realize that the people that you have on your team won't simply come together on their own. They need someone who can organize them into an efficient team. A great leader knows the importance of having a team comprised of the right mix of individuals with different and varying strengths and weaknesses and the strategic placement of these individuals on the playing field that will fully utilize their strengths, while minimizing any weaknesses.

Be a Role-Model

Over 80% of what people learn is from what they observe from other people. As a leader, people will be focusing on your life, both professionally and personally, as an example of how to act themselves. If you want to see your team with exceptional personal qualities that you admire, then make sure that you yourself are demonstrating those same qualities. Your followers will mirror back the qualtities that you display towards them. A true leader is committed towards serving their team and does what's necessary to push the team closer to that ultimate vision. Along the same note, a leader must never complain in front of their team because that shows a lack of direction. A chain-of-command management philosophy I learned in the police force was that criticism should always go up the chain of command, while praise should always go downwards. An officer never gripes to his troops, he gripes to his superiors, while patting his troops on the back for doing a job well done.

Be a Learner

Leaders are learners. Our wisdom for making the right decisions is shaped and molded by our experiences in life. Leaders not only immerse themselves into experiencing as much as they can throughout life, but they also learn from the wisdom of other people as a way to leverage the time that they have. We can learn from our own mistakes and accomplishments, but we can also learn from the mistakes of others as well and it's for this reason that leaders must be learners. Strive to maximize your own personal development by taking courses, reading books, listening to audio programs and immersing yourself into something new that will cause personal growth to happen. Leaders by their very nature have almost an obsession with personal growth because it's from wisdom and experience that produces a higher quality decision.

Be a Great Communicator

Great leaders know how to communicate to their team effectively. They know how to deliver their message in a way that will create a lasting impact on the people who are listening to them. A great leader will also listen to the people that follow them. Through communication, leaders can convey specific goals and instructions to their followers. Leaders are listeners. I've known many bosses out there in the world that really haven't grasped the ability to listen effectively. They are too busy thinking about what to say next, that they fail to grasp the valuable feedback and ideas that are given to them. Remember that consequences, both positive and negative, require actions and actions require decisions and decisions require an effective exchange of communication. Poor communication almost always results in a poor decision and the end result is a very poor consequence because of it.

Be Competent

A major component of trust is competence. To be a great leader, you have maintain a level of proficiency at what you do. To often, skilled people rise up the promotional ranks into a management position and they inevitably fail because they are no longer handling the technical aspects of the department that they were so good at before and instead, their have assumed a position that demands a whole new type of intelligence-interpersonal intelligence-the ability to interact well with others. A great leader is not only competent at the technical portion of things, but they are also competent at interacting with others. Strive to develop both to become a great leader.

Be Compassionate

People in the position of power often forget simple manners when it comes to delegating responsibilities to their subordinates. A great leader is respectful at all times and follows the platinum rule of giving all people unconditional love and acceptance regardless of whether they deserve it or whether they want it. It's sometimes too easy to allow positional power to go to one's head and when that happens, that person is no longer a leader, but instead a dictator. A genuine leader is one who is compassionate towards others. They have the power of empathizing with all people and understanding how they might feel. A false leader, on the other hand, does not empathize with their people, but instead makes decisions based on what they want or what is popular or what is good for them. The greatest leaders display the quality of unconditional love. Unconditional love is the love of all people without reservation and without having them demonstrate behaviors that you want them to. Unconditional love helps the leader put aside their wants and allows them to see what is good for other people. A compassionate leader also knows that they are not above anyone else and does not treat others as if they were. They understand that they simply have a role to fulfill just as other people do and they always treat others with respect and dignity at all times.

Be Intuitive

In my experience, all the outstanding leaders I've known have a very keen sense of intuition. They listen to their "gut" feeling and are sensitive to when their body is telling them that something feels bad or doesn't sit well with them and they don't ignore it. Leaders combine their gut feeling with their experience to avoid the pitfalls that sometimes open up underneath an organization at any time. It's the intuitive nature of a leader that enables them to balance the information given to him by the "experts" with what feels right inside. While experts can give a lot of useful information, they are usually more resources of data than pragmatics and usually wither and die out on the battlefield of reality.

Be a Mentor

A great leader does not only see people as they are, they see people as how they could be. A dictator holds his people down and prevents growth, while a leader knows the value of developing his people and enhancing their potential. A true leader encourages his team to take on new responsibilities and to grow and learn because that investment in the personal growth of their team will pay off substantially in the future.

Be Willing to Celebrate

Many managers get caught up with trying to be professional by not celebrating enough. Celebration delivers positive energy and recognition to their teams for an effort well-done. Make a big deal about achievements as if your team had just won the Super Bowl or the World Cup. Celebrations are an important tool for motivation.


The path towards living a life of significance demands that you become an exceptional leader. Start working on building your leadership qualities as I have outlined here and never stop building on those skills for the rest of your living days. The better a leader you become, the more people will hear and follow your message and the greater positive change you can influence on the world as part of your legacy. As Major General Perry M. Smith (Ret. USAF) once said, "All leaders must work hard to build the future, for that is where they and their people will spend the rest of their lives."2


1. LaBarre, Polly. How to be a Real Leader. April, 1999. Issue 24, pg. 62. Accessed on February 2, 2007 at

2. Smith, Perry M. Learning to Lead. The Marine Corps Gazette. 1997. Accessed on February 17, 2007 at

Copyright © 2007 Tristan Loo.

TRISTAN LOO is a leading authority on human potential and personal effectiveness. As an author, speaker and trainer, Tristan has inspired thousands of people with his passionate message of overcoming adversity and creating the ultimate life that they desire. Visit Tristan's website at or contact at: [email protected]

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