Shakespeare once said "Some men are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them." This is applicable to leaders as well. Some are born leaders (well, that's debatable), some achieve leadership positions by their hard work and some have leadership positions thrust upon them. Whatever the case may be, there are some distinctive qualities of a good or great leader. Some are related to the personality traits, some to the character traits and some to the strategies employed by a leader.

Personality traits of a leader basically refer to his unique behavioral, temperamental and mental attributes. In short, his general disposition and the way he thinks, acts and feels. Like if he is a pessimist, optimist, idealist or realist, whether he is self-directed or needs encouragement, confident or lacks it, whether he likes to work alone or with people, whether he is short tempered or patient, whether impulsive or thoughtful, whether he takes decisions fast or dawdles, whether open to new ideas and people or psychologically closed, etc. all the little things that make up a person. Strategy refers to the plan of action of a leader, the road map that he takes to get where he wants to. While personality traits and strategy are important elements that make/mar a leader, it is the character traits of a leader that determine how influential a leader he is or can become.

Character Traits of a Good Leader

Leadership is a combination of strategy and character. If you must be without one, be without the strategy - Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf

The above quote highlights the importance of the character traits of a leader. What is character? It is nothing but the unique attributes, qualities or inner strength of a person, often referring to the moral and ethical fiber of the individual. Following are some character traits of a good leader. Before you proceed, you might like to take a look at the leadership traits.

Ability to Generate Trust and Respect
A leader who cannot inspire respect and trust in the people he is leading, ultimately fails as a leader. We see this in the rise and fall of contemporary political leaders. The ability to generate trust and respect is one of the fundamental character traits of a leader. It implies that a leader has to be above the ordinary for his followers to have confidence in him. They need to have faith in him and his abilities and decisions and for this, it is imperative for a leader to have integrity and a vision or goal of a better future. Mahatma Gandhi is an example of one such leader, who despite his small physical frame (no muscles) and despite his personal weaknesses and failings, (he was dumbstruck in his first court appearance as an advocate and couldn't speak anything) inspires awe and respect in people from across the globe.

Ability to Communicate
The art of speaking is a valuable character trait of a leader. A good leader is one who is able to express himself and inspire others through his verbal expression. He should be able to communicate the ideas in his head to others in a lucid manner, such that his followers also believe in them and make it their own. Only then, he can be considered as a natural team leader. Speaking of communication ability, who can be a better example than Martin Luther King Jr.? He started a movement with his "I dream..." speech.

Energy and Zeal
Lots of it! A leader should be optimistic and not get weighed down by obstacles. At the same time, he should be a realist. In fact, he should be the one to find ways and means to get around obstacles but at the same time he should be open to ideas. He should be fast thinking, optimistic and good at analyzing things. This includes an abundance of courage, confidence and positive thinking. The best example of such a leader is JRD Tata, who built an empire with his vast reservoir of energy and enthusiasm, and not only generated employment for millions, but facilitated the emergence of many new leaders within his empire.

A leader who is corrupt, insensitive, prejudiced and unjust, cannot succeed in his mission. A true leader is like a tree laden with fruits... humble and not arrogant. He works for the well-being of society and not for vested interest. He is a coach to other people, guiding them, motivating them, inspiring them and educating them. There are many names that come to mind, of leaders who failed just because they were not fair minded. Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Zia ul Haq are just a few.

Ability to Innovate
Of all the character traits of a leader, this particular one sees the followers through tough times. A good leader is a winner, not a quitter. He has resilience, imagination and clear vision. He is above petty things and puts all his energy into the larger picture, the nobler cause. He embraces change and teaches people not to fear change but learn from it. In fact, openness to learning is one of the main characteristics of a good leader.

Be a Role Model
A leader is one that people look up to, for answers, guidance and inspiration. Thus, a leader has to watch himself constantly, keep a cool head, practice what he preaches and leads by example.

From the above discussion, we can see that the character traits of a leader refer to traits that are almost divine in nature. Perhaps for this reason, the kings and leaders of the past who are still remembered and revered today, were given a god like status. They were the caretakers and guides of humanity. They were beacons of light, who showed the way to the masses. As for those who lacked the character traits of a good leader, they are either forgotten or remembered because of the bad things they did and their sad ending.