[June 11, 2017] Most people have a pretty good idea what leadership is about; they know it when they see it and know when it is missing or misused. Political leadership, despite what we’ve seen in the news, is not that different than leadership in any other institution.
Some experts tell us that political leadership – as distinct from other forms – is not just an oddity but a wholesale contradiction because it “violates” all the tenets of successful leadership. On the surface that may seem to be the case and notwithstanding the stereotype of the dishonest politician, we can find a few good traits.
If we were to cull the literature for successful politicians there are a few from which we can take solace in knowing that the most necessary of their traits are not that much different from any other leader. There may be a difference in emphasis but they still remain and thus give us pause to consider the truly wide range of leadership styles, skill sets, and abilities.
Here are the top six character traits that modern literature suggests are necessary for the successful politician. I listed them in no particular order because any particular situation demands flexibility to employ those skills:
- Caring for citizens: only in the true sense of the word as it provides the needed motivation to do good
- Communication skills: reliable, flexible, and focused ability to synthesize the complex into something people can understand
- Relevant experience: in major leadership positions, in major conflicts like war, and in political know-how under enormous pressure (preferred)
- Ability to build coalitions and processes: and do so in a way that is popular with the citizenry
- Recognizing opportunities: like in sports, if you see an opening then take it
- High energy: call it what you want but without boundless energy and the ability to quickly provide good solutions, clarity in speech and thought, and fast action are crucial
Like other highly demanding leadership positions, the political leader must have all these plus the all-important trait of integrity (yes, insert laughing here). But it is true that political leaders must have integrity, otherwise those who support them will leave. A quality inner circle that neither trusts nor believes the political leader can turn on a poor leader.
Despite the changing nature of political leadership and the negative stereotypes (created from those who fail to adapt), such leadership requires the application of a range of traits that all good leaders possess. Political leadership is not a contradiction; it is simply a variation of traditional leadership.
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