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Very often when we think of leaders we tend to picture them in the context of business or politics. It is understandable to see why, as we have been raised with the images and stories of influential politicians and successful businessmen. We have created a culture that promotes success and idolizes everyone associated with success. It is part of our hierarchical views as humans to have our activities largely focused around the most distinguished individuals in every field. We look up to the best, the strongest, and the smartest. They are the alphas of our society.
When we think of great people, our minds immediately turn to names like John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, and Nelson Mandela. They are remembered as great for their courageous thinking and decisive actions; for their visions for change, and a better world for everybody. They were and still remain a source of great inspiration for people from all over the world and it is why we admire them, write about them, and analyze what they’ve said and done. Fascinated by such figures, we want to know what has made them into the personalities that left their mark in history. Exhausting studies have been conducted into the lives of great leaders from all walks of life, starting from centuries before our time to the movers and shakers of today. Combining the findings of such extensive work has provided valuable insight into the personality traits of great leaders.
However, coming up with a definitive list of leadership traits is a daunting task to take on. After all, how can we so rigidly define the human condition by narrowing it down to a simple list in order to make greatness easier to grasp? That being said, we can use specific traits that consistently come up in studies and try to provide a better understanding of this phenomenon.
Every distinguished leader in human history has been an excellent communicator. It is necessary to point out the difference between communication and speaking because communicating entails human and organizational interaction on multiple levels. It is not a mere case of a charismatic uttering of words, but an effective transfer of direction, vision, and values. High-level leadership communication starts with the nonverbal cues and the manner in which the person carries him/herself. Authority is gained with confident strong verbal communication accompanied by equal confidence in nonverbal gestures. That is a practical aspect of public life all great leaders in history have mastered.
Beyond this, communication extends to one’s ability to actively listen. Harnessing the virtue of curiosity, asking questions, and actively gathering information and wisdom is an indispensable part of the communication skill set. Honest interactions with subordinates further build leadership authority. Historical research into leadership suggests a strong connection between the communication skills of the leader and those of his/her team or organization. This means that the leader is the one who defines the communication culture of his immediate surroundings. Open information-sharing practices that support collaboration and problem solving make a historical trademark of great leaders.
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