If we are to develop better leaders, we must first analyze great leadership to find out its constituent characteristics and then devise some methods to fill the prospect’s gaps between what he has and what he should have in terms of higher leadership traits.

In the search of what makes a great leader and how to make one, we examine the effects of (a) circumstances, (b) luck, (c) good characteristics, (d) bad characteristics, and (e) how to develop leaders through training.

1.       Circumstances

Circumstances may determine the characteristics that a leader should have to succeed in those particular conditions. The 2nd world war exhibited Churchill’s characteristics of great courage and eloquent communication as important traits that subsequently proved him as a great leader. The Falkland war made Thatcher’s resoluteness, decision making and courage into winning traits for her leadership. Both Churchill and Thatcher were performing poorly before those particular circumstances arose.

Circumstances or the type of environment may demand a certain kind of character for leadership; For instance, ponder over the questions: could Bill Gates be an army leader? Nelson Mandela a business leader? Or Thatcher an NGO leader?

2.       The element of luck

Fairly often, next to planning lies also some element of luck that influences the odds. This influence of luck is graphically described in Ecclesiastes, a book in the Old Testament attributed to the biblical King Solomon most famous for his wisdom; quote “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor the bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to the men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all”.

3.       Characteristics of great leadership

Essential characteristics Resulting to Other important characteristics Resulting to
Have a purpose bigger than self Inspiring Communication Informing, sharing goals
Inner Motivation Persevering Winners Achieving
Visionary Aims high sets targets Emotional Intelligence Self & Social awareness
Strategic Set up himself to win, tactical moves Humility Approachable, respect for others
Courage – indomitable Believes in himself and what he does Creativity Alternatives, overcoming obstacles
Lead by example Creates confidence in others Critical judgment Sieving what counts – Good decisions
Put others before themselves Trusted Honesty and Ethical Others trust him
Genuine Consistent, transparent Ambidexterity Ability to see and deal with short & long term issues
Trusting Empowering his people

The critical characteristic of a great leader is his inner fire; a fire that in its strength melts irons and lights up the vision and the way ahead.

4.       Leadership Avoidance Characteristics


Negative Consequences

Perfectionist Micromanaging
100% fair for everything to everyone Scared of taking action, stonewalled
Accessible 24/7 Consumed in the day-to-day activities at the expense of being strategic
Intolerant of others’ weaknesses and failures Showing no understanding
Loses the measure of things Cannot prioritize
Egotism, behaves as if infallible Hubris
Inconsiderate and harsh Cruel
Derogates emotional intelligence as unintelligent Lacks potential for social awareness and proper assessment of the external and internal environment
Stuck to the demands and skills of his previous position Unsuitable to serve a higher purpose or position
Wants to be the sun, the moon and the stars Selfish, scared of his colleagues, does not develop his people

Bad leadership is like rust. Slowly but constantly, it eats up the iron, weakening the foundations until one day the whole edifice crumbles to dust.

5.       Training for leadership

Is leadership trainable? To what extent? Can that inner fire mentioned earlier be ignited, and to what extent, by some of the aforementioned leadership characteristics or are there for that any other elements further inside us and not explicitly apparent to us? Whatever the answers, one thing sure from experience is that a person’s leadership can by training improve to a degree that is largely governed by the subject’s willingness, cooperation and more importantly by his capacity for Emotional Intelligence (EI).

Judging by the weaknesses of the current leadership, we may conclude that we must rethink how we train and develop leaders. We must, however, understand that such a training due to its complex nature may not always yield the expected results to the full. Let’s have a quick look at some of the leadership training methods we have.

5.1 Method 1: The Gap Analysis

The prospect is assessed for desirable leadership characteristics, table 1, as well as for those to avoid, table 2, and then the trainers set themselves to work on the prospect to fill the gaps by gaining or enhancing the good traits and shedding any bad ones.

5.2 Method 2: Vertical Development

This method is finely described by Dr Teri Baydar MBA, D.D. in her LI article “What is Leadership Development Really? Is it Working?” https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/what-leadership-development-really-working-dr-teri-baydar-mba-d-d-/

The author reports that besides training for leadership skills and competencies (horizontal development), we must follow that work with training for the higher needs of the ladder of “Maslow hierarchy of needs”, transforming the prospect’s mindset from one level to the next from Physiological and Safety to Love/Belonging, to Esteem, and to Self-actualization (Vertical Development).

5.3 The How for both methods: The Right Brain Development

What we want the prospect to achieve or enhance is, in many cases, his Emotional Intelligence by which he understands his and others’ positions as well as the environment or situation he may find himself in. Further critical needs for the prospects would be Prestige, Legacy, Self-actualization.

We observe that all the above needs lie more in the semi-sphere of the right brain and on this premise we base and devise the training methods and techniques. The training for the prospect is aimed at enhancing his right brain and is done by focusing on visuals, patterns, concepts, analogies and perceptions.

5.4 One step further: The Connection between the Left and the Right Brain

The communication between the two sides of the brain is also essential and should be addressed and enhanced by specific training. We believe that it is the strength of this communication that is responsible for translating, for instance, the vision into a program of actions, and vice versa sending feedback from the actions governed by the left brain to the visuals of the right brain. Practicing on such issues strengthens the leader’s capacity for such critical interactions.
The critical role of leadership in the success of the business and its people is beyond question. Management guru Peter F. Drucker said it very eloquently:

“Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights,
the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard,
the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.”

We conclude by saying that there is scope for further improving our understanding of leadership and its development and that the challenge ahead for leaders is to keep on the search for a better understanding of what makes great leaders and how to develop people to become great in leadership.


For those with further interest in the topic or in other management services: Panikos Sardos is the Managing Director of P&E Sardos Business Solutions Int., a management consulting firm that offers advisory services, coaching and training and can be reached by email: psardos@sardossolutions.com or telephone: +357 99640912, +357 24400884, www.sardossolutions.com