Character Is Key to Great Leadership

Article excerpt

IF WE could somehow bottle the qualities that we admire in our leaders, I wonder which ingredients we'd pick out.

No doubt our leadership brew would come in several different flavours, according to taste, but certain overall characteristics can set the standard for any person we're happy to put in charge.

Self-serving, hurt-inflicting dictators who stash untold millions in Swiss banks while their countrymen live in abject poverty aren't likely to make the grade.

Neither would politicians who pocket obscene amounts of pay while denying pensioners a decent standard of living.

Abraham Lincoln believed that leaders should tap the "better angels of our nature" in the service of a cause much higher than personal gain.

Lincoln also used his power with words to weaken his opponents.

Empathy and a willingness to suffer for followers' ideals seem to mark out great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

Ailing former South African president and anti-apartheid campaigner Nelson Mandela languished for 27 years in jail, sacrificing his health and family life for a cause he cared passionately about.

Mandela himself said: "It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur," he said.

"You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership."

Commentator Paul Schoemaker picked out a few of Mandela's strengths - encouraging racial harmony, forgiveness without forgetting, power-sharing and a strong focus on the future. …