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The Essential Qualities of Leaders

by Jim Tunney

Haven't we all dreamed of changing ourselves, to create new power in our lives just by thinking our way into something better? Well, I'm here to tell you that wish fulfillment is an honorable goal. It begins by allowing the idea. The willingness to dream is where change begins.

Next you have to punch that dream with some determination. With those two things - the idea and the gumption to believe "I can" - the mind becomes engaged and suddenly about to put its notable powers of reason and insight to work on the how-to. The gumption to believe "I can" creates "smarts" not otherwise apparent.

If you doubt this, you are but doubting yourself. Ask anyone who has accomplished something. First comes the idea, next the attitude, then the results.

Not convinced? Still doubting your capabilities? Stop wasting time. Negative thoughts weigh you down. The same amount of time spent with positive thoughts and even-handed confidence will lighten the load, create flexibility, and free you for a faster pace.

To help gain perspective, study several leaders you admire. You will find they share certain characteristics. They routinely marshal their strengths in similar ways. Each of us has the opportunity to follow their good example. Consider:

Self-esteem. You must believe in yourself before anyone else will believe in you. It doesn't mean having a sense of superiority over others, only a sense of your innate value and capabilities.

Craftsmanship. What is the quality of your efforts? Is your heart engaged? Are you performing consistently at a high level and still getting better and better? Do you do your homework? Do you shine as an example of what learning is all about? You can teach yourself anything you want to know.

Responsibility. Do you hold yourself accountable for both your attitude and your actions? Your choice of attitude is the only personal freedom that is absolutely inviolable. Do you feel as strong a sense of obligation to yourself as you do to others?

Goal Direction. A goal is like a magnet to leaders. It motivates. It directs. It pulls them around detours and distractions. If you choose goals which are personal and deeply felt, suddenly you have a road map.

Optimism. It's an error to assume that you're either optimistic or pessimistic as a matter of nature because "that's just the way it is". Not so. While we may have different tendencies, optimism is still a discipline, acquired by a steady stream of self-determining choices, similar to learning to choose healthy foods over unhealthy ones, or to select constructive ways to invest time instead of frittering it away. Since it is a preference and a discipline, if you've lost your optimism, look at your software, not your hardware. "Enable" yourself with better mental programming.

Commitment. Do you keep your agreements? With yourself as well as with others? Or, if circumstances develop which suggest an agreement needs to be changed, do you take an active role in guiding that change with fairness and dignity? As my father instructed, "Never make a promise you don't intend to keep, and keep the ones you do make, even with yourself."

Trust. Being honest with your intentions is important because your ability to trust in others is weakened, if you have lost faith in yourself. No one accomplishes very much without trusting others, and most people deserve more of our trust that we give them. But first we must have (or earn back) faith in ourselves.

De-Centering. Leaders have taught themselves to consider situations from several frames of reference. By cultivating imagination, you can think your way through an experience from someone else's perspective. This is critical in business for such tasks as gauging what the competition might be up to, but it is also a central skill (or failure) in communications of any sort, whether between nations, co-workers, parents, children or spouses.

These eight traits - self-esteem, craftsmanship, responsibility, goal direction, optimism, commitment, trust and de-centering - are shared by leaders because focusing on these perspectives develops clarity. Whether working on a duty or a dream, the quality of intention and its results develop naturally from that clarity.

The great thing is that there is nothing magical, preordained or impossible about these traits. They can be learned. Anyone can become good at all of them, if you choose the role of a leader and, if you have the creative gumption to change yourself.

Change, we must remember, is intrinsic to progress. This is as true for self-evolution as it is for business. Only you can be the creative director in your life. By observing traits of leadership in others and by having the initiative to apply these traits to your personal goals, you can change and become more of the leader you aspire to be. First comes the idea, next the attitude, then the result.


Jim Tunney, Ed.D,.is and educator, speaker, and author of the book, It's the Will, Not the Skill. His web site is

You may contact Jim Tunney about speaking, consulting, other publications and many other things by using the form at the end of this link. You must request permission from Jim Tunney to re-print or repost this article.


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