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Characteristics of an ideal leader
Colleges, these days, offer courses that teach leadership skills to their students. They are taught to hone their skills in communication, motivation, strategic planning, team-building... basically, the works. However, one wonders if it is actually possible to train people to become leaders? Isn't it imperative that they possess a few qualities that cannot be taught? After all, leaders need to have a futuristic vision, an exemplary character, and an attitude to match if they wish to be at the forefront. It is obvious that these qualities are beyond the realms of teaching. Leaders, mostly the the ones who stood out, had that extra bit in them. These extra qualities were observed, imbibed and practiced. Let us understand them better.

"It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it."
- Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling

Yes, it is indeed a very curious thought to begin with, but nothing could describe the fundamental quality of a leader any better. Those who lust for positions of leadership are usually the ones who are enchanted with the idea of being a leader. Being a leader involves shouldering a tremendous amount of responsibility, and not to mention, intelligence. Any person who seeks to be a leader is simply salivating at the thought of becoming powerful, and the possible advantages the position would bring. It hardly matches up to the admirable kind, don't you think? Admirable is when a person gracefully rises to the occasion, to steer the ship in the right direction.

"It's hard to lead a cavalry charge if you think you look funny on a horse."
- Adlai Stevenson

Seriously, how many times have we been told about the power of our mind? Any person, leader or not, needs to well and truly believe in something to make it possible. Yes, it does sound very pseudo-motivational-ish, but it's the only truth. If a leader does not think of himself as a leader, or is self-conscious about being in the forefront, the entire setup is more or less doomed. Someone who is confident and assured about his ability has half the battle in his pocket. Even a tiny trace of self-doubt can cause the strongest mind to falter. So, if you wish to lead, you need to be convinced about your abilities, before you go on to take charge.

"Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other."
- John F. Kennedy

For a leader to be a know-it-all is the last straw. Life is smartly defined as an unending quest for knowledge, so if you think you know everything there is to it, you've probably come to the end of it. A leader needs to keep his eyes and ears constantly open to imbibe new thoughts and ideas, irrespective of where they're coming from. Any opportunity to pick up new skills should never be ignored as it promotes improvement. And as a leader, isn't being innovative and creative an indispensable part of your job description?

"The art of leadership is saying no, not yes. It is very easy to say yes."
- Tony Blair

As a leader, you should not always aim to please. Being a leader warrants that you may have to be the villain, more often than once. Popular notion and reason don't always walk hand in hand. So, a good leader needs to pick the intelligent option, which is reason, of course; knowing as it will never fail you. Settling for less, in order to appease people might make your popularity soar, but it will plummet as fast if your decision-making skills do not yield the desired results. A real commander needs to possess the ability to say 'no', if the situation demands so.

"I must follow the people. Am I not their leader?"
- Benjamin Disraeli

Ironic, isn't it? The subtlety behind these soft words can deceive many. Usually, we think of a leader as someone who essentially 'leads'. There is no doubting the veracity of it, but there is an equal need for a leader to be tuned in to what his people feel. A leader who cannot follow his team's perceptions cannot possibly lead for long. In fact, a leader who dissociates himself from his people, can no longer be considered fit enough to helm a team.

"If you can't swallow your pride, you can't lead. Even the highest mountain had animals that step on it."
- Jack Weatherford

If there's one thing that can cause anyone's downfall, it's the wretched ego. As soon as the leader becomes too big for his boots, his days are numbered. A person who can't handle the fickleness that comes with leadership isn't suited for the role. Simply put, a leader has to keep his ego aside and do what's best for his team, even if it means conceding defeat. Then again, there have been innumerable instances of pride coming in the way of success.

"When the effective leader is finished with his work, the people say it happened naturally."
- Lao Tzu

We always tend to picture our leader being the center of attention, whereas it takes a whole lot of effort to be in charge and yet, blend into the background. While it may be tempting to hog the limelight, a natural leader effortlessly shifts the credit of his success on to his team, and lets them revel in its glory instead of doing so himself. This is the kind of leader who is perpetually revered and remembered.

It's a pity how our leaders today tend to equate their position with aggression, power and authority. If only they'd bring about a sense of subtlety in working, we'd be able to see a lot less conflicts and a lot more harmony.