Traits That Define Leadership

I learned long ago that it’s easy to criticize—it’s tougher to do.  Politicians are particularly susceptible to learning this lesson the hard way when they discover the promises made seeking office often can not be kept when facing the reality of governing.

Whether it is the president of the United States or the president of a company, a teacher or a parent, people run into trouble when they put aside the traits that define great leaders.  These traits include:


As vice president, Harry Truman was not privy to the plans and decisions made by president Roosevelt. When suddenly thrust into the Presidency, it would have been easy for him to defer decisions because of this lack of knowledge but instead he made the tough decisions and took the responsibility for them.  The sign on his desk read, “The buck stops here.”


You knew that once his mind was made up, Ronald Reagan was not going to change it.  An example was the air traffic controllers.  Reagan told them if they we on strike he was going to fire them.  The media went crazy: “You can’t do that, air travel will come to a halt.”  Well, they went on strike, he fired them and the planes went on flying.

Being consistent means making  decisions, sticking with them and  approaching problems in a steady, stable and most importantly, predictable manner.


George Washington had a reputation of being scrupulously honest: his word was his bond and you could believe what he said. Because they believed in and trusted him, despite terrible hardships, the men of the continental army continued to soldier under his command; eventually winning the American revolution.

The respect he earned  allowed him to win the peace by pulling together varying factions to write the U.S. Constitution.  His efforts led to the United States becoming a great nation and to his being recognized as the founder of our country.

You cannot lead if people don’t trust your words or your actions.


Theodore Roosevelt came from a family of wealth.  Although he could identify with the “captains of industry,” he realized that great fortunes were being built upon the backs of working people: that trusts and monopolies reduced competition and unnecessarily raised prices.  Roosevelt undertook a campaign to break up the trusts and monopolies and became the great “Trust Buster.”  His compassion for the little guy won him fame, popularity and respect.  The laws he helped to craft and pass still govern our nation’s commerce.

Avoiding Being Precipitous

Operation Overlord, the WWII invasion of France, involved hundreds of thousands of troops, countless ships and millions of tons of supplies, all coming together at the same time at the same place.  Dwight Eisenhower led the effort to formulate the plan that led to a successful invasion and the liberation of Europe.  Eisenhower knew that success is based upon planning: that hasty decisions can lead to disastrous results.

Eisenhower also knew that reckless words can destroy a relationship.  When George Patton spoke impetuously about the British people, he found himself without a command.

A Willingness To Put Ego Aside

Abraham Lincoln strived to surround himself with quality people: bright lights that often outshined his own.  He realized that the more successful his subordinates were, the more success he would have in his efforts to save the union.  He did not hesitate to fire generals who were not performing and did not care that the successful ones received more accolades than he did.  He was willing to set aside personal agendas and ego in his quest to fulfill his mission.


“In order to be a leader a man must have followers. And to have followers, a man must have their confidence. Hence, the supreme quality for a leader is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office. If a man’s associates find him guilty of being phony, if they find that he lacks forthright integrity, he will fail. His teachings and actions must square with each other. The first great need, therefore is integrity and high purpose.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower


3 responses to “Traits That Define Leadership

  1. Well said Bill. When I look at the “leaders” of today, what I see is a group of people who cannot possibly do what they were hired to do because their first allegiance is to the corporate money and honchos that put them in office. It seems the middle class, seniors, teachers, policemen, and firemen are at the bottom of the heap and are discardable. Shame on them.

    • True leaders have a true desire to selflessly serve others. A permanent political class Is not good. We don’t hire people to do a job, we elect people to lead. Thank you for the kind words.

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