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In Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill, explains what he considers to be the major qualities all strong leaders must possess.  I outline these eleven characteristics below with my interpretation of what each means.  Before we get to that, I want to highlight a specific quote from the book which explains what I consider to be the most foundational quality of all leadership.  Hill writes, “Most great leaders began in the capacity of followers.  They became great leaders because they were intelligent followers.  With few exceptions, the man who cannot follow a leader intelligently, cannot become an efficient leader.  The man who can follow a leader most efficiently is usually the man who develops into leadership most rapidly.”

I believe the above statement 100%.  On multiple occasions, I’ve seen team members dismiss their leaders and act as poor followers.  Then when it’s their turn to step into a management or leadership role, they struggle because they are surprised that leadership is seldom black and white – it’s usually in varying shades of gray.  This is an interesting topic, but for now, let’s review Hill’s major attributes of leadership.

  • Unwavering courage based upon knowledge of self, and of one’s occupation – People must have confidence in their leader.  Without it, there is little or no confidence in the mission.  Intelligent followers will see this.  They may advise the leader to change, but ultimately they will seek other opportunities if the leader obviously lacks courage and understanding of himself and his position.  Once they leave, the team consists of a weak leader and poor followers.  At this point, it is doomed to failure.
  • Self-Control – This is based on the idea of leading by example.  If you cannot control yourself – including your emotions, responsibilities, schedule, and appetites – how can you be expected to control others.  If you show discipline for yourself, you set a strong example that some followers will emulate and your team will be further strengthened.
  • A keen sense of justice – When you act unfairly, resentment brews.  To retain the respect of your team you must be fair.
  • Definiteness of decision – This ties back to confidence as well.  Sticking with your decision is one of the most important ways to show confidence.  It is much more desirable for a leader to be consistent and change her mind slowly, than it is for her to flip flop with every bit of new information.  Lack of surety will lead to lack of success.
  • Definiteness of plans – Plans set the direction and tempo of the work to be done.  Hill writes, “The successful leaders must plan his work, and work his plan.”  Guesswork can land you at a dead-end or some other location you have no desire to be in.
  • The habit of doing more than paid for – Leaders must be prepared to do more than they require of their followers.  Furthermore they should build an entrepreneurial gap by adding more value at work than they were paid to do.
  • A pleasing personality – Simply put, it’s difficult to respect people you don’t like.  Since leadership calls for respect, leaders should have a naturally pleasing personality or should make efforts to become a more likable person if they are stiff or disheveled by nature.
  • Sympathy and understanding – Teamwork calls on people to work together, so it makes sense that a strong leader should be a “people person.”  In other words, he should care about his followers and have understanding for who they are and the problems they face both at home and in the workplace.
  • Mastery of detail – Organization and familiarity of a position’s finer responsibilities is important.  If a leader doesn’t stay apprised of the work that needs to be done and who will complete it, she may make careless mistakes.
  • Willingness to assume full responsibility – A leader is accountable for the mistakes and shortcomings of his team.  If a follower proves to be incompetent, the leader must consider that it is himself who failed.  It’s that simple.
  • Cooperation – As Hill puts it, “Leadership calls for power, and power calls for cooperation.”  Nothing gets done in a bubble, so it is imperative that leaders understand and apply principles of cooperative effort.

This concludes Hill’s list of the major attributes of leadership.  He goes on to explain that there are two types of leadership. The first is the most effective and this is based on the consent and sympathy of the followers.  The second is leadership by force.  Today, and for the purposes of business, my desire is to develop the above leadership characteristics because I believe in servant leadership.

Servant leadership is the approach that leaders are meant to serve the team’s they control by giving them the challenges, resources and understanding that helps them to thrive.  Leadership is a partnership between those “in charge” and those who follow, because the reality is that followers always hold the power since they deliver the change a leader envisions.

For those interested, I previously posted an overview of the major lessons given by Napoleon Hill in Think and Grow Rich.  This article was meant to highlight his observations on successful leaders.

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