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identifying leaders:
              a balanced approach

Part One "What makes a leader a leader?"

By James R. Crosby, Ph.D.

How do we explain the meteoric rise of a great football coach such as Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers or Tom Landry and the Dallas Cowboys? How do we explain the success of Joe Torre and the New York Yankees? Or in the world of business, how do we account for leaders such as Bill Gates of Microsoft, Mary Kay Ash of Mary Kay Cosmetics or Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines?

For years, authorities in the field of management have wrestled with the question of just what ingredients make for successful leadership. From World War I until the 1950's, many thought the key to unlocking our understanding of leadership had to do with certain personality traits. The theory was if the leader of an organization possessed certain traits, this would ensure that person's ability to lead.

Eventually, authorities gave up on trying to explain leadership in terms of general traits such as intelligence, creativity, resourcefulness, and enthusiasm. The pendulum began to swing from an emphasis on broad traits to an understanding of how specific personality traits influence behavior. Experts in the field of management, Bartol and Martin observe, "Whereas many inherent traits may be difficult to change, it might be possible for most of us to learn universally effective behaviors--if they could be identified--and become successful leaders." 1 But of course this begs the question, "And just what trait behaviors are we talking about?"

To understand properly the dynamics of leadership, we must avoid the peril of the pendulum. Leadership is neither the domain of mere traits nor is it a matter of only observable behaviors. Leadership is "both/and." In other words, an effective leader possesses certain traits as well as the matching behaviors. In this article, we'll consider six general traits and corresponding trait behaviors. By better understanding the relationships of traits with behaviors, we'll also gain new insight into the complex and fascinating subject of leadership. Any individual who possesses these traits, and can balance them with the accompanying patterns of behavior will have the "right stuff" for leading an organization.

1. Visionary: First and foremost, great leaders have to be people of vision. They have to be able to see into the future and visualize how things ought to be. When Mary Kay Ash started Mary Kay cosmetics in 1963, her goal was to provide women with an unlimited opportunity for personal and financial success. Because of her steadfast commitment to this vision, and her tremendous determination, dedication and hard work, Mary Kay Inc. has grown from a small direct sales company to the largest direct seller of skin care products and color cosmetics in the U.S. Her vision was balanced by hard work. Success does not come to those unwilling to roll up their sleeves and pay the price of making hay while the sun shines. Mary Kay Ash understood this and now Mary Kay Cosmetics has more than 500,000 Independent Beauty Consultants in 29 markets worldwide, and was featured three times as one of The 100 Best Companies to Work for in America.

2. Assertive: Leaders typically have a "take charge" personality. Tom Landry offers us an example. Much of his success in turning a losing team into a winner was due to his innovations in formations and play patterns. The players respected and admired him, not only because of his expertise and knowledge of the game, but because he provided a determined stance the team so desperately needed.

However, it is possible to go to an extreme with a "take charge" attitude. The logical end result is that the leader becomes autocratic and runs over anyone who gets in the way. This is why drive must be balanced with "can do" behaviors. For example, Herb Kelleher, CEO of Southwest Airlines, spends the Wednesday before Thanksgiving each year loading baggage. He is compassionate, the type of manager who will stay until daybreak helping employees with their problems. His father was general manager of Campbell Soup, and from him he learned great respect for the workers on the factory floor. Likewise, your employees will not care how much you know until they know how much you care.

3. Responsible: Leaders must take the initiative and set the direction for their organization. They are on the cutting edge, in the forefront, highly visible, and to use a theater metaphor-stage center. Assuming the leader of your organization possesses the ability to set the direction of the company, information management competency and the ability to adapt should balance this pursuit. Again and again, military officers and sports coaches have cried out to their subordinates to provide vital information. The same holds true for any business organization. Management textbooks are ripe with case studies of companies that failed because management lacked or was unable to adapt to important strategic information.

Perhaps one of the most classic examples of this in the 20th century was the failure of Ford's introduction into the mid-priced automotive field. Several factors caused the demise of the Edsel, one being Ford's failure to understand the consumers' desire for smaller, more fuel-efficient foreign cars, and the publics utter distaste for the name "Edsel". The management at Ford had this information, but was either incapable or unwilling to use it. It is almost impossible for the top managers to have too much information at the ready. True, some managers have enough information to make an intelligent decision but still waffle back and forth on what to do and how to do it. But all things considered, it's probably better to err on the side of having too much information than not having enough.

4. Charismatic: Charisma is perhaps the most slippery trait to grasp. Just what is charisma anyway? It's a bit like being in love. You know it if you're in love, but it's very difficult to describe what it means to fall in love. So it is with charisma. People the world over recognized leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jack Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan as charismatic. Everyone agrees that charisma, which is closely linked to referent power, helps the leader make his or her job easier. Referent power results from being admired, respected, identified with, or receiving strong feelings of friendship. Like a bald eagle in the skies, these people soar above ordinary mortals. They are legendary in their ability to attract a following. To his workforce, Lee Iacocca no doubt oozed charisma. Largely due to his charisma, he was able to turn around the ailing Chrysler Corporation.

As wonderful a trait as charisma is, it should not stand alone. In this writer's opinion, it must be balanced with the behavior of "reality sense." By reality sense, I mean a leader must think objectively about his organization's strength in the market, especially as compared to the competition. A good leader does not look at the world through rose-tinted glasses but rather sees things as they really are. They remain open to subordinates, willing to listen to their opinions, accept their criticism, and yet remain approachable and open. It isn't easy to become a good listener, but as Yogi Berra might say, you will be amazed how much you hear just by listening! As with so many of the key leadership traits outlined here, balance is the key. Don't be in the clouds when assessing your organization's strengths and weaknesses but, on the other hand, don't wallow in a mud bath of unrealistic pessimism.

5. Competency: Competency in a leader is interwoven with authority. Today authority has almost become a word of profanity because people don't always understand it. They often equate authority with unreasonableness, a demanding spirit, and a my-way-is-the-only-way attitude. Nothing could be further from the truth. An organization cannot possibly hope to move forward if top leaders lack an authoritative demeanor. But by authoritative, I'm not talking about becoming a dictator or a tyrant; rather, I mean that leaders must exude competency and expertise in their field of endeavor. I once had a professor at Michigan State University who observed:
"In the everyday world of business and politics, knowledge of how to get things done is also highly related to leadership. Practical knowledge relative to problematic situations is increasingly becoming the basis of leadership. The ability to make constructive and creative suggestions has been found to be part of this practical knowledge." 2
Would Tom Landry have become a great football coach if he himself had never played the game? Hardly! Could Cathleen Black of Hearst Publishing successfully lead the world's largest publisher of monthly magazines, (Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Good Housekeeping and Harper's Bazaar) if she had never written a story or sold an ad? No way. So it is with leaders; to be authoritative, they must be competent and experienced in their discipline.

This is not to say that the authoritative leader moves the organization forward on their individual strength alone. His or her openness and willingness to seek counsel from subordinates must balance authoritativeness. Top managers must listen, ask questions, and understand the differences between words and meaning. People don't always mean what they say and say what they mean. But for many leaders, knowing the difference does not come automatically. Often, they must be diplomatic, and learn to listen and pay attention to what their workers are really saying. Experts in the field of management have noted the value of listening in this way:
"Allow time for the discussion to continue without interruption, and try to separate the conversation from more official communication of company plans. That is, do not make the conversation any more "authoritative" than it already is by virtue of your position in the organization. Focus on the content of the message; try not to think about your next statement until the person is finished talking." 1
6. Sociability: A good leader should be relationship oriented; able to get results from their subordinates even if he or she isn't well liked. But a good leader should also be a "people person." Wouldn't it be much more pleasant and downright fun to work for an organization where the workers genuinely liked their leaders? George W. Bush appears to be off to a good start in his presidency. At least part of the explanation lies in the fact that so many people, even those of the opposite party, like him as a person and respect him as a leader.

Some questions remain. Can you be so people oriented that you don't get anything done? Isn't it possible to act like a social "whiz bang" at company parties, meet people well, and in general make a good impression-yet ignore the task at hand? The answer is that being relationship oriented must be balanced with being task sensitive. A leader cannot get so bogged down in personal relationships that goals are not reached. A clearly articulated mission statement helps leaders stay focused on the task at hand. For example, Motorola puts their mission statement in simple but direct terms: "The purpose of Motorola is to honorably serve the needs of the community by providing products and services of superior quality at a fair price to our customers." Yes, leaders should be relationship oriented but they must also be task sensitive.

In this article, we have surveyed six traits and six parallel behaviors: Vision is balanced by hard work; a take charge approach by a can do attitude; the ability to set direction with information management; inspirational charisma by reality sense; a spirit of authority with a desire to seek counsel from subordinates; and an ability to build relationships with task sensitivity. In the next article, we will discuss six more traits and six more behavior patterns that can increase your LQ, or Leadership Quotient.


1 Bartol, Kathryn M. and David C. Martin. Management. 4th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 1998.

2 Jennings, Eugene E. An Anatomy of Leadership. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1960

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James R. Crosby, Ph.D. is Lecturer in Management at The University of Texas at Arlington. Born on a farm in northeastern Colorado, Jim is one of that rare breed sometimes called "nature's gentlemen."

As such, Jim has experienced many lives. After studying as a Broadcasting major at Indiana University, Jim and his young wife Pat transferred to Colorado State where he shifted his major to Animal Husbandry. That was in 1957.

In 1958 the couple left CSU for Klamath Falls in Oregon where Jim worked as a laborer in a lumber mill. In 1960, they moved again - this time to southern California where Jim matriculated from Los Angeles Baptist College. From there Jim and Pat moved to Texas where he entered the Dallas Theological Seminary - one of the world's largest independent seminaries.

Somewhere along the way, Dr. Crosby earned his Ph.D. in College & University Administration, with a cognate in Management from Michigan State University.

After working in a number of different ministries: camping, pastoral work, work with the Greater Europe Mission, writing for camping publications, teaching at Dallas Bible College, and at the Tyndale Seminary near Amsterdam in Holland, Jim finally landed in his present life as lecturer in Management at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Jim and Pat presently live in the Lakewood area of Dallas, Texas.

The opinions expressed in articles by this author do not necessarily represent the opinions of MindData. These articles are provided as a means of informing you of current events and opinions that impact employers and the workplace.

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