Leadership Qualities


Ten Ways to Identify a Promising Person

The most gifted athletes rarely make good coaches. The best
violinist will not necessarily make the best conductor. Nor will
the best teacher necessarily make the best head of the

So it’s critical to distinguish between the skill of
performance and the skill of leading the performance, two
entirely different skills.

It’s also important to determine whether a person is capable
of learning leadership. The natural leader will stand out. The
trick is identifying those who are capable of learning leadership
over time.

Here are several traits to help identify whether someone is
capable of learning to lead.

  • Leadership in the past. The best predictor of the future
    is the past. When I was in business, I took note of any
    worker who told me he was superintendent of a school or a
    deacon in his church or a Boy Scout leader. If he showed
    leadership outside of the job, I wanted to find out if he
    had some leadership potential on the job.
  • The capacity to create or catch vision. When I talk to
    people about the future, I want their eyes to light up. I
    want them to ask the right questions about what I’m
    talking about.
  • The founder of Jefferson Standard built a successful
    insurance company from scratch. He assembled some of the
    greatest insurance people by simply asking, “Why
    don’t you come and help me build something great?”
  • A person who doesn’t feel the thrill of challenge is not
    a potential leader.
  • A constructive spirit of discontent. Some people would
    call this criticism, but there’s a big difference in
    being constructively discontent and being critical. If
    somebody says, “There’s got to be a better way to do
    this,” I see if there’s leadership potential by
    asking, “Have you ever thought about what that
    better way might be?” If he says no, he is being
    critical, not constructive. But if he says yes, he’s
    challenged by a constructive spirit of discontent. That’s
    the unscratchable itch. It is always in the leader.
  • People locked in the status quo are not leaders. I ask of
    a potential leader, Does this person believe there is
    always a better way to do something?
  • Practical ideas. Highly original people are often not
    good leaders because they are unable to judge their
    output; they need somebody else to say, “This will
    work” or “This won’t.”
  • Brainstorming is not a particularly helpful practice in
    leadership, because ideas need to stay practical. Not
    everybody with practical ideas is a leader, of course,
    but leaders seem to be able to identify which ideas are
    practical and which aren’t.
  • A willingness to take responsibility. One night at the
    end of the second shift, I walked out of the plant and
    passed the porter. As head of operations, I had started
    my day at the beginning of the first shift. The porter
    said, “Mr. Smith, I sure wish I had your pay, but I
    don’t want your worry.” He equated responsibility
    and worry. He wanted to be able to drop his
    responsibility when he walked out the door and not carry
    it home. That’s understandable, but it’s not a trait in
    potential leaders. I thought about the porter’s comment
    driving home. If the vice-president and the porter were
    paid the same money, I’d still want to be vice-president.
    Carrying responsibility doesn’t intimidate me, because
    the joy of accomplishment-the vicarious feeling of
    contributing to other people-is what leadership is all
  • A completion factor. I might test somebody’s commitment
    by putting him or her on a task force. I’d find a problem
    that needs solving and assemble a group of people whose
    normal responsibilities don’t include tackling that
    problem. The person who grabs hold of the problem and
    won’t let go, like a dog with a bone, has leadership
    potential. This quality is critical in leaders, for there
    will be times when nothing but one’s iron will says,
    “Keep going.” Dale Carnegie used to say,
    “I know men in the ranks who will not stay in the
    ranks. Why? Because they have the ability to get things
    done.” In the military, it is called “completed
    staff work.” With potential leaders, when the work
    comes in, it’s complete. The half-cooked meal isn’t good
  • Mental toughness. No one can lead without being
    criticized or without facing discouragement. A potential
    leader needs a mental toughness. I don’t want a mean
    leader; I want a tough-minded leader who sees things as
    they are and will pay the price. Leadership creates a
    certain separation from one’s peers. The separation comes
    from carrying responsibility that only you can carry.
    Years ago, I spoke to a group of presidents in Columbus,
    Ohio, about loneliness in leadership. One participant,
    president of an architectural firm, came up afterward and
    said, “You’ve solved my problem.” “What’s
    your problem?” I asked. “My organization’s
    always confused,” he said, “and I didn’t know
    why. It’s because I don’t like to be lonely; I’ve got to
    talk about my ideas to the rest of the company. But they
    never know which ones will work, so everybody who likes
    my idea jumps to work on it. Those who don’t, work
    against it. Employees are going backward and forward-when
    the idea may not even come about at all.” Fearing
    loneliness, this president was not able to keep his ideas
    to himself until they were better formulated. A leader
    must be able to keep his or her own counsel until the
    proper time.
  • Peer respect. Peer respect doesn’t reveal ability, but it
    can show character and personality. Trammell Crow, one of
    the world’s most successful real estate brokers, said
    that he looks for people whose associates want them to
    succeed. He said, “It’s tough enough to succeed when
    everybody wants you to succeed. People who don’t want you
    to succeed are like weights in your running shoes.”
    Maxey Jarmen used to say, “It isn’t important that
    people like you. It’s important that they respect you.
    They may like you but not follow you. If they respect
    you, they’ll follow you, even if perhaps they don’t like
  • Family respect. I also look at the family of a potential
    leader: Do they respect him or her? Fifteen years ago, my
    daughter said, “Dad, one thing I appreciate is that
    after you speak and I walk up, you are always attentive
    to me. You seem proud of me.” That meant a lot to
    me. If respect isn’t there, that’s also visible. The
    family’s feelings toward someone reveal much about his or
    her potential to lead.
  • A quality that makes people listen to them. Potential
    leaders have a “holding court” quality about
    them. When they speak, people listen. Other people may
    talk a great deal, but nobody listens to them. They’re
    making a speech; they’re not giving leadership. I take
    notice of people to whom others listen.

It’s not enough for people to have leadership potential; they
must have character and the right setting in which to grow.
Before I give someone significant leadership responsibilities, I
find it helpful to ask myself several questions:

  • What will this person do to be liked? It’s nice to be
    liked, but as a leader it cannot be the controlling
    factor. The cause must be the prime motivator.
  • Does this person have a destructive weakness? There are
    only two things I need to know about myself: my
    constructive strength and any destructive weakness. A
    destructive weakness may not show up on a test; it’s a
    character flaw. A destructive weakness may, for example,
    be an obsession. An obsession controls us; we don’t
    control it. It only grows worse over time.
  • Can I provide this person the environment to succeed? It
    is so important, particularly in the early days of
    someone’s leadership, that he or she be put into a
    congenial environment. I wouldn’t want, for example, to
    put someone who requires mentoring with a leader who pays
    no attention to people. An environment that threatens our
    sense of security or well-being splits our concentration
    from the cause. Young leaders need an environment in
    which they can concentrate on leading.

(Fred Smith, LEADERSHIP JOURNAL; Fall 1996, Vol. XVII, No. 4,
Page 30)

What is the Role of Leadership?

You may have the following questions about your peer leaders.

  • What do long-term school reform leaders view as their
    essential professional competencies?
  • What do they see as their role in sustaining reform?
  • How do they engage teachers, families, and communities in
    partnerships that build programs to help children meet
    challenging standards?
  • How do such leaders know when they are doing a good job?

Dimensions of Sustaining Leadership

  • Partnership and voice
  • Vision and values
  • Knowledge and daring
  • Savvy and persistence
  • Personal qualities (passion, humor, and empathy strength
    of character, general maturity, patience, wisdom, common
    sense, trustworthiness, reliability, creativity,


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About KappaDiva
Learning Leader Tech Ed Advocate Empassioned Educator Perpetual Student Professional Learner Chief Learning Officer Tonya is a learning leader, instructional design, performance support and multimedia communications professional, with nearly 20 years of experience in healthcare, information systems, instructional design and training, web and creative design, internal and external marketing, PR and communications, social media, service excellence, leadership development and non-profit operations management. She is currently Director, Staff Learning & Development, Teach For America; President, A2ATD; principal and Chief Learning Officer of Kappa Beta Technology & Instruction; grad student at The University of Michigan; and author of the Learning Leader Blog (www.learningleader.org,) an emerging technologies resource for 21st century educators. She current is living in Macomb County, MI, with her cat and several Mac and iOS devices.

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