Leadership: Who would you follow?

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This post was written by Matt Wilson, who’s a staff writer at our sister blog The Hiring Site. Matt’s got some great observations to share here.

Just over a month ago, we elected a new national leader. Many were happy with the results, while some were disappointed; but I think we can all agree on being thankful that, after two years of campaigning, the process is finally over.

Prior to the election, people were both enamored and critical over certain qualities the two unique presidential candidates showed. We won’t ask who you voted for here, but we would like to know what qualities attract you to a particular leader. Is it someone who is daring or diplomatic? Brilliant or wise? Authoritative or relational?

With apologies to the Obamas and McCains of the world, and even ex-TV Presidents Jed Bartlet and David Palmer, we’ve taken six non-political, fictional characters and examined the qualities that made them effective leaders.

Captain James T. Kirk, Star Trek

Dashing and daring, Kirk takes on bold initiatives fearlessly. A little over-emotional at times, his rash decision making doesn’t always turn out well (especially if you wear a red shirt), but he ultimately knows how to lead others effectively through his mistakes. He’s intelligent but not an intellectual, has a good sense of humor, and connects to his crew-all admirable leadership qualities. Good with a phaser, the ladies and leveraging the strengths of others to motivate them beyond their usual capacity (especially those warp engines), he’s also a hand-to-hand combat expert, especially when battling space lizards (all important skills when exploring strange, new worlds).

Captain John H. Miller, Saving Private Ryan

This “every man” leader commands respect based on his actions, not his words. Though Captain Miller bestows wisdom when needed, it’s his “human” element that attracts his followers and allows them to connect with him.

His consistent fairness in judgment and good decision-making skills-especially under duress-illustrate his natural leadership abilities. He is also exceptionally brave and committed to pursuing his vision regardless of circumstances or consequences. He also has a knack for developing interesting acronyms.

Cobra Commander, G.I. Joe

Sure, he hides behind a mask, is a monomaniacal megalomaniac, and listening to his scratchy, high-pitched voice is akin to a nail on the chalkboard, but he is a brilliant strategist with great administrative skills. He also casts a clear vision (world domination) to followers, and always commands respect by his authoritative demeanor and refusal to give up no matter how many times opponents get in the way of achieving his goals.

C.C. (as close friends call him) also provides flexibility in the workplace, illustrated by his casual Friday cotton hood instead of the shielded helmet he wears most days.

Miranda Bailey, Grey’s Anatomy

Her subordinates often refer to her as “The Nazi” because of her harsh and blunt demeanor, but there’s much more to Bailey than running a tight ship. The Seattle Grace chief resident is always there for her team when they need help, and she never shifts blame, taking responsibility for her actions and those beneath her.

She usually keeps her emotions in check, does what’s right regardless of the situation, and constantly builds on her leadership abilities. Bailey also shows great agility in adapting to whatever comes her way in the ER, and has a heart for service, evidenced by her opening of a free health clinic.

Mufasa, The Lion King

It’d be weird to follow a lion-an animated talking one at that. But the King of the Pride Lands combined many of the best leadership qualities: great strength, wisdom, bravery, a sense of humor, and a willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice to protect those he is leading. Mufasa also knows how to effectively have difficult conversations, whether it’s with a mutinous, outcast brother or a trouble-making son.

He also recognized the importance of building future leaders beneath him so they would be prepared to one day replace him and ensure the preservation of that circle of life thing. And with that powerful voice, who wouldn’t want to line up behind him?

Princess Leia Organa, Star Wars

The feisty Rebel Alliance leader fights for what’s right and is a stabilizing force during uncertain times in the galaxy. Often outspoken, Leia shows extreme loyalty, and is always the last to leave in the face of danger. A believer in “diplomacy first,” she’s not afraid to pick up a blaster and pull the trigger if all else fails. She’s also a keen motivator, whether it’s a speech or peck on the cheek (like she did to her  <shudder> brother), to inspire others toward getting the job done. The princess also displays great decision-making skills-whether it’s woman’s intuition or the Force, nobody knows, but it increases her leadership abilities even more.

To summarize: Some people are natural-born leaders, but for the most part, the skills of a leader are developed over time through training, experience and the investments of other leaders in their lives. The best leaders never stop learning how to lead better and know that if their organizations or teams are going to continue being successful, they must groom and develop other leaders beneath them.

  1. I agree Marsha, and that’s also the challenge of leadership. The best leaders are continually seeking self-development. Those who don’t shouldn’t be leading.

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