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What It Takes to Be a Leader
Vision, perseverance, ethics, vision, courage, and passion lead the list of leadership qualities.
By Ezra Billinkoff


Being a leader implies that you are leading others to a goal. The leader of this beach cleanup project communicated the need and was able to enlist others who shared his passion.
(Photo: Arthur Tilley/Getty Images)

Advice From the Experts

Embrace diversity. Everyone is different and special. Leaders must be understanding and accepting of the different cultures that make up our country and communities.
—Etta Moore, executive director of the Girl Scouts, Lone Star Council

Develop sensitivity. If you show that you care for others, you will be well liked and respected. You must consider how other people feel and how they live before acting.
—Ronald Walters, director of the African-American Leadership Institute

Always keep learning. Great leaders are great learners and they are continuous learners. You can learn something from everyone and everything.
—Rebecca Shambaugh, president of the Shambaugh Leadership Group

Find your strengths. Learn what you are good at. Use those strengths to improve on your weaknesses.
—Erwin Hargrove, professor of Political Science, Vanderbilt University

Embrace conflict. Leadership involves the clash of ideas. Having different ideas from other people can make you smarter—as long as you listen to new ideas.
—Georgia Sorenson, U.S. Army War College visiting professor of Transformation
Anybody can be a leader, but it's not easy to be a great leader. Good leaders have a certain set of qualities and skills, said the leadership experts interviewed by Scholastic News Online recently. The following list includes only a small number of the many qualities these experts say are necessary to be a great leader.

Vision

Being a leader implies that you are leading others to a goal. But without identifying the goal, tasks can be hard to accomplish. Vision allows you to look ahead and see the goal. With vision, a leader can know the final goal, plan the route to accomplish it, and anticipate obstacles or challenges along the way.

Vision can also give you a sense of direction and focus, as expert Rebecca Shambaugh who runs a leadership training organization, points out. If you use vision to plan ahead, you can focus on accomplishing your goals.

Sometimes, setting goals and establishing a vision requires you to think "outside of the box." That means you have to think creatively, beyond the usual solutions. Setting goals also requires perseverance (per-se-VEER-ance), or an ability to keep going despite challenges. "Too many people give up the first time they meet any opposition," says Georgia Sorenson, a professor of leadership at the Academy of Leadership at the University of Maryland and at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Good leaders "push through" to the end, she says.

Ethics and Integrity

Having strong ethics is what allows you to make the right decision as a leader. It is important to stop and ask yourself if you are making ethical choices. Strong ethics usually prevent leaders from hurting others or themselves to obtain your goals. You may be faced with difficult ethical decisions as a leader. These are called dilemmas.

Here's an example of an ethical dilemma: You are with a group of your friends in your home. You are all playing around and you accidentally break one of your parents' dishes. They come home after your friends have left and ask you what happened to the dish. You can either tell them the truth (that it was you), or you can blame it on a friend so that you do not get into trouble.

As a leader with strong ethics, you should know that lying could hurt other people. In the short run, you are not in trouble with your parents. But long term, you may lose a friend and the trust of that person and others. You cannot be a great leader if people don't trust you to be honest and ethical. Thinking twice about the outcomes of the choices you make can help you to be sure that you are making the ethical decision. Etta Moore, the director of Texas's Lone Star Council for Girls Scouts of the USA, says it is always important to understand the impact of the decisions you make.

Communication

Leaders must be able to communicate with the people around them. Good communication skills include both the ability to listen to others and to articulate (ar-TIC-u-late)—or explain well—your opinion to others.

Shambaugh says that good leadership is all about the three L's: listen, learn, and lead. You can learn from others by listening closely to them. Once you have learned what others think and have come up with a plan for accomplishing your goals, you are ready to lead. Erwin Hargrove, a university professor who teaches about presidential leadership, also stresses the importance of listening, saying, "Above all, learn to listen to other people."

While listening is important, being able to talk clearly to others is also necessary. Sorenson says that an ability "to articulate something that inspires people to work for common good" is an excellent quality for a leader to have. By listening well and speaking well, you can become a responsible leader.

Courage

"You can be [smart] and know a lot about people's problems. But unless you are willing to do something, it doesn't amount to much," says Ronald Walters, who also works at the Academy of Leadership at the University of Maryland. Walters believes that courage is the key element necessary for a person to act. To be willing to act, you must first be courageous.

Moore agrees. She believes that talking about your plans or vision is important, but acting on it and actually moving forward shows more about you as a leader.

Passion

When you have strong feelings about a certain subject, it is sometimes easier to act on them. For example, if a big chemical plant in your neighborhood started polluting the water, you would probably believe strongly that it should stop. You don't want to drink polluted water! Your passion—or strong feelings—for the issue will make you more likely to act on it. You could either call your Mayor's office or start a protest.

Passion can give you courage, which can help you act on your beliefs.

Are you a leader?