Traits of a Leader

Leadership: Learning From Past Leaders

Harald Anderson asked:

I enjoy reading biographies. By learning about the lives of leaders I am better able to understand the challenges I face today. History is full of stories about great leaders. What I have found to be most appealing about leaders that I have studied is that they believed in a cause and saw all obstacles as mere inconveniences that would eventually be overcome. While in the business world these people are today called CEO’s, in the past, these were the people who put their lives on the line for a cause they believed in. Some of the most obvious of these leaders were the leaders in the American Civil War.

In the past great leaders believed in the cause.

They did not fight because they had nothing better to do. As a matter of fact many of the men who took up arms had families at home, and great jobs bringing in a lot of money, but the cause was more important than anything else. They walked away from everything because the reason was good enough; it was worth laying their life down for. While you may not need to put your life on the line for your job, you do need this kind of dedication in order to be a great leader.

The leaders stood in front of the fire. Instead of standing at the back of formations and sending the soldiers out to fight, American Civil War leaders were the ones who went out in front of the soldiers. They were often the first one to take a bullet. Today things are different, when something goes wrong, usually someone further down the line loses their job when the leader blames them for the problem.

With success there is often failure.

The key is to stand up and admit losses. During the Civil War, General Lee accepted responsibilities for losses throughout the fight. Today’s leaders, however, like to push failures off on other people instead of standing up tall and accepting their responsibility.

Show strength in the battlefield.

In the Civil War, General Lee was outnumbered. That did not cause him instant defeat. Instead he was aggressive and cunning and was able to often win battles against the Union forces. These traits are just as important in today’s business world. To be able to survive the competition between companies is paramount.

Be able to adjust when necessary.

While generally everything that is done in today’s business world has a plan, that plan may change, and you need to be able to change with it. The same thing happened in the Civil War. Sure they had battle plans, but when the enemy did something unexpected, it was important that the leaders quickly adjusted their tactics to regain the advantage in battle. You must be able to do the same thing in business. See a problem coming at you across the field and quickly alter your strategies to be able to handle what is approaching.

Taking a few cues from the leaders in the American Civil War will be a boon to anyone who wants to become a better leader. They had all the skills necessary, taking responsibility, aggressiveness, improvisation, vision and honesty. While these are not always the easiest traits to show they are the signs of a great leader.

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