Though certain people may seem to have that je ne sais quoi that inspires others to follow their lead, the ingredients of true leadership aren’t really a mystery. Many people have researched and studied the qualities that leaders possess, and they have observed many commonalities.

If your students are aspiring to take on a management or leadership role in an institution or organization, or if they simply wish to have more influence in their circles of friends and classmates, encourage them to begin building the characteristics of a leader today.

Andrew J. DuBrin has identified many of these characteristics in his book Leadership: Research Findings, Practice, and Skills, Seventh Edition. Here’s a quick summary of the traits he recounts:

  • Self confidence. Per DuBrin, “A leader who is self-assured without being bombastic or overbearing instills self-confidence in team members” (p. 37). Your self-confidence and calm demeanor can help others feel more certain that they, too, can overcome hurdles or reach a challenging goal.
  • Humility. When you’re willing to share credit with others, and you’re willing to admit that you’re not perfect, others see that and appreciate it.
  • Core self-evaluations. Research shows that four related self-perceptions relate to effective leadership: “self-esteem, locus of control [that is, taking responsibility for what happens in your life], self-efficacy [akin to self-confidence], and emotional stability” (p. 40).
  • Trustworthiness. People trust you when your attitudes, words, and motives align with what you actually choose to do. This includes being honest about mistakes, refusing to gossip and shift blame, and doing things the ethical way (even if it’s more expedient to do otherwise).
  • Authenticity. Be yourself, and act in line with your core values and personality. People will notice if you’re trying to be someone other than who you really are.
  • Extraversion. Most leaders maintain an outgoing demeanor, show an interest in people, and gladly participate in group or team activities. (Feel that you’re not naturally extraverted? You can work on your skills by making a conscious effort to demonstrate genuine curiosity about and friendliness toward others.)
  • Assertiveness. Be up front about your needs, concerns, and opinions. However, don’t forget to be tactful!
  • Enthusiasm, optimism, and warmth. Staying positive, being approachable, and expressing positive thoughts and feelings through both verbal and nonverbal communication help you build rapport with those around you.
  • Sense of humor. Your ability to make people laugh can help others feel comfortable and relieve tense situations.  (pp. 37-45)

In addition to these general personality traits, DuBrin also lists several task-related personality traits common to leaders:

  • Passion. Leaders show an extremely strong commitment to and enthusiasm about their work.
  • Emotional intelligence. A solid leader exhibits empathy towards others, has a good understanding of emotions – both others’ and their own – and recognizes that their own mood can have an effect on the entire organization’s performance. (The primary research in this area was conducted by Daniel Goleman.)
  • Flexibility and adaptability. A leader can bring about change… so it follows that he or she must also be ready and willing to adjust to different settings and situations.
  • Internal locus of control. Strong leaders take responsibility for events and believe that they can have an effect on outcomes and conditions.
  • Courage. Willingness to take risks on new ideas may put you “out there” for criticism and blame… but it also carries the reward of bringing new ideas to fruition. (pp. 45-51)

Through awareness of what it takes to be a leader, you can begin building habits that lead to increased effectiveness.

Reference: DuBrin, A.J. 2013. Leadership: Research Findings, Practice, and Skills, 7th Edition. Mason, OH: South-Western, Cengage Learning.

Wish to give your students additional suggestions for becoming the leaders they want to be? Direct them to How to be a Leader: Advice for College Students on Developing Leadership Qualities, which appeared on CengageBrainiac, a student-focused blog managed by the team at CengageBrain.com

Who stands out as an example of an effective leader to you? Why? What personality characteristics, positive habits, or character traits do they exhibit? How do you encourage students to step into leadership roles? Share your story below.