Leadership Traits and Attributes. In your initial discussion forum post, answer these questions:
- What is your strongest or most developed leadership trait?,
- How do you know this is your strongest leadership trait? Provide examples.,
- What is something you could do to improve or develop this trait further?,
- What leadership trait is your biggest challenge or area of opportunity?,
- What could you do to work on this leadership area of opportunity?,
- How would developing this area of opportunity help you reach your goals
Why are some people leaders while others are not? What makes people become leaders? Do leaders have certain traits?
These questions have been of interest for many years. It seems that all of us want to know what characteristics account
for effective leadership. This chapter will address the traits that are important to leadership.
Since the early 20th century, hundreds of research studies have been conducted on the traits of leaders. These studies
have produced an extensive list of ideal leadership traits (see Antonakis, Cianciolo, & Sternberg, 2004; Bass, 1990).
The list of important leadership traits is long and includes such traits as diligence, trustworthiness, dependability,
articulateness, sociability, open-mindedness, intelligence, confidence, self-assurance, and conscientiousness. Because
the list is so extensive, it is difficult to identify specifically which traits are essential for leaders. In fact, nearly all of the
traits are probably related to effective leadership.
What traits are important when you are asked to be a leader? To answer this question, two areas will be addressed in
this chapter. First, a set of selected traits that appear by all accounts to be strongly related to effective leadership in
everyday life will be discussed. Second, the lives of several historical and contemporary leaders will be examined with
a discussion of the traits that play a role in their leadership. Throughout this discussion, the unique ways that certain
traits affect the leadership process in one way or another will be emphasized. Leadership Traits and Attributes
Recognizing Your Traits
2.1 Leadership Traits Explained
From the beginning of the 20th century to the present day, researchers have focused a great deal of attention on the
unique characteristics of successful leaders. Thousands of studies have been conducted to identify the traits of effective
leaders. The results of these studies have produced a very long list of important leadership traits; each of these traits
contributes to the leadership process.
For example, research studies by several investigators found the following traits to be important: achievement,
persistence, insight, initiative, self-confidence, responsibility, cooperativeness, tolerance, influence, sociability, drive,
motivation, integrity, confidence, cognitive ability, task knowledge, extroversion, conscientiousness, and openness
(Judge, Bono, Ilies, & Gerhardt, 2002; Kirkpatrick & Locke, 1991; Stogdill, 1974). On the international level, House,
Hanges, Javidan, Dorfman, and Gupta (2004), in a study of 17,000 managers in 62 different cultures, identified a list of
22 valued traits that were universally endorsed as characteristics of outstanding leadership in these countries. The list,
which was outlined in Table 1.2 (http://content.thuzelearning.com/books/Northouse.6443.20.1/sections/navpoint14#s9781544351636.i792) in Chapter 1 (s9781544351636.i709.xhtml) , “Understanding Leadership,” includes such attributes
as being trustworthy, just, honest, encouraging, positive, dynamic, dependable, intelligent, decisive, communicative,
informed, and a team builder. As these findings indicate, research studies on leadership traits have identified a wide
array of important characteristics of leaders.
However, these research findings raise an important question: If there are so many important leadership traits, which
specific traits do people need to be successful leaders? While the answer to this question is not crystal clear, the
research points to six key traits: intelligence, confidence, charisma, determination, sociability, and integrity. In the
following section, we will discuss each of these traits in turn.
Intelligence (http://content.thuzelearning.com/books/Northouse.6443.20.1/sections/navpoint-78#s9781544351636.i5207) is an
important trait related to effective leadership. Intelligence includes having good language skills, perceptual skills, and
reasoning ability. This combination of assets makes people good thinkers, and makes them better leaders.
While it is hard for a person to alter his or her IQ, there are certain ways for a person to improve intelligence in general.
Intelligent leaders are well informed. They are aware of what is going on around them and understand the job that
needs to be done. It is important for leaders to obtain information about what their leadership role entails and learn as
much as possible about their work environment. This information will help leaders be more knowledgeable and
For example, a few years ago, a friend, Chris, was asked to be the coach of his daughter’s middle school soccer team
even though he had never played soccer and knew next to nothing about how the game is played. Chris took the job and
eventually was a great success, but not without a lot of effort. He spent many hours learning about soccer. He read howto books, instructor’s manuals, and coaching books. In addition, Chris subscribed to several soccer magazines. He
talked to other coaches and learned everything he could about playing the game. By the time he had finished the first
season, others considered Chris to be a very competent coach. He was smart and learned how to be a successful coach.
Regarding intelligence, few if any of us can expect to be another Albert Einstein. Most of us have average intelligence
and know that there are limits to what we can do. Nevertheless, becoming more knowledgeable about our leadership
positions gives us the information we need to become better leaders.
Being confident is another important trait of an effective leader. Confident people feel self-assured and believe they can
accomplish their goals. Rather than feeling uncertain, they feel strong and secure about their positions. They do not
second-guess themselves, but rather move forward on projects with a clear vision. Confident leaders feel a sense of
certainty and believe that they are doing the right thing. Clearly, confidence
(http://content.thuzelearning.com/books/Northouse.6443.20.1/sections/navpoint-78#s9781544351636.i5170) is a trait that has to do
with feeling positive about oneself and one’s ability to succeed.
If confidence is a central trait of successful leaders, how can you build your own confidence? First, confidence comes
from understanding what is required of you. For example, when first learning to drive a car, a student is low in
confidence because he or she does not know what to do. If an instructor explains the driving process and demonstrates
how to drive, the student can gain confidence because he or she now has an understanding of how to drive. Awareness
and understanding build confidence. Confidence can also come from having a mentor to show the way and provide
constructive feedback. This mentor may be a boss, an experienced coworker, or a significant other from outside the
organization. Because mentors act as role models and sounding boards, they provide essential help to learn the
dynamics of leadership.
Confidence also comes from practice. This is important to point out, because practice is something everyone can do.
Consider Michael Phelps, one of the most well-known athletes in the world today. Phelps is a very gifted swimmer,
with 23 Olympic gold medals and the record for winning the most medals, 28, of any Olympic athlete in history. But
Phelps also spends an enormous amount of time practicing. His workout regimen includes swimming six hours a day,
six days a week. His excellent performance and confidence are a result of his practice, as well as his gifts.
In leadership, practice builds confidence because it provides assurance that an aspiring leader can do what needs to be
done. Taking on leadership roles, even minor ones on committees or through volunteer activities, provides practice for
being a leader. Building one leadership activity on another can increase confidence for more demanding leadership
roles. Those who accept opportunities to practice their leadership will experience increased confidence in their
Of all the traits related to effective leadership, charisma gets the most attention. Charisma
(http://content.thuzelearning.com/books/Northouse.6443.20.1/sections/navpoint-78#s9781544351636.i5158) refers to a leader’s
special magnetic charm and appeal, and can have a huge effect on the leadership process. Charisma is a special
personality characteristic that gives a leader the capacity to do extraordinary things. In particular, it gives the leader
exceptional powers of influence. A good example of a charismatic leader is former president John F. Kennedy, who
motivated the American people with his eloquent oratorical style (visit edge.sagepub.com/northouseintro5e to read one
of his speeches). President Kennedy was a gifted, charismatic leader who had an enormous impact on others.
At the same time, charisma can also be used by leaders in less positive ways. As we discuss in Chapter 14, “Exploring
Destructive Leadership,” charisma enhances a leader’s ability to gain people’s devotion. Incorporated with charisma are
leaders’ strong rhetorical skills, vision, and energy, which destructive leaders use to win others over and to exploit
followers for their own ends. World history abounds with examples of leaders, from Adolf Hitler to religious leader
Jimmy Swaggart, who use their charisma in a harmful way.
It is not unusual for many of us to feel challenged with regard to charisma because it is not a common personality trait.
A few select people are very charismatic, but most of us are not. Since charisma appears in short supply, a question
arises: What do leaders do if they are not naturally charismatic?
Based on the writings of leadership scholars, several behaviors characterize charismatic leadership (Conger, 1999;
House, 1976; Shamir, House, & Arthur, 1993). First, charismatic leaders serve as strong role models for the values that
they desire others to adopt. Mohandas Gandhi advocated nonviolence and was an exemplary role model of civil
disobedience; his charisma enabled him to influence others. Second, charismatic leaders show competence in every
aspect of leadership, so others trust their decisions. Third, charismatic leaders articulate clear goals and strong values.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech is an example of this type of charismatic leadership. By articulating
his dream, he was able to influence multitudes of people to follow his nonviolent practices. Fourth, charismatic leaders
communicate high expectations for followers and show confidence in their abilities to meet these expectations. Finally,
charismatic leaders are an inspiration to others. They can excite and motivate others to become involved in real change,
as demonstrated by Kennedy and King.
Determination (http://content.thuzelearning.com/books/Northouse.6443.20.1/sections/navpoint-78#s9781544351636.i5182) is
another trait that characterizes effective leaders. Determined leaders are very focused and attentive to tasks. They know
where they are going and how they intend to get there. Determination is the decision to get the job done; it includes
characteristics such as initiative, persistence, and drive. People with determination are willing to assert themselves, they
are proactive, and they have the capacity to persevere in the face of obstacles. Being determined includes showing
dominance at times, especially in situations where others need direction.
We have all heard of determined people who have accomplished spectacular things—the person with cancer who runs a
standard 26.2-mile marathon, the blind person who climbs Mount Everest, or the single mom with four kids who
graduates from college. A good example of determined leadership is Nelson Mandela, who is featured in the
Leadership Snapshot in this chapter. Mandela’s single goal was to end apartheid in South Africa. Even though he was
imprisoned for many years, he steadfastly held to his principles. He was committed to reaching his goal, and he never
wavered from his vision. Mandela was focused and disciplined—a determined leader.
What distinguishes all of these leaders from other people is their determination to get the job done. Of all the traits
discussed in this chapter, determination is probably the one trait that is easily acquired by those who lead. All it
demands is perseverance. Staying focused on the task, clarifying the goals, articulating the vision, and encouraging
others to stay the course are characteristics of determined leaders. Being determined takes discipline and the ability to
endure, but having this trait will almost certainly enhance a person’s leadership.
Another important trait for leaders is sociability
(http://content.thuzelearning.com/books/Northouse.6443.20.1/sections/navpoint-78#s9781544351636.i5248) . Sociability refers to a
leader’s capacity to establish pleasant social relationships. People want sociable leaders—leaders with whom they can
get along. Leaders who show sociability are friendly, outgoing, courteous, tactful, and diplomatic. They are sensitive to
others’ needs and show concern for others’ well-being. Sociable leaders have good interpersonal skills and help to
create cooperative relationships within their work environments.
Being sociable comes easier for some than for others. For example, it is easy for extroverted leaders to talk to others
and be outgoing, but it is harder for introverted leaders to do so. Similarly, some individuals are naturally “people
persons,” while others prefer to be alone. Although people vary in the degree to which they are outgoing, it is possible
to increase sociability. A sociable leader gets along with coworkers and other people in the work setting. Being friendly,
kind, and thoughtful, as well as talking freely with others and giving them support, goes a long way to establish a
leader’s sociability. Sociable leaders bring positive energy to a group and make the work environment a more enjoyable
To illustrate, consider the following example. This scenario occurred in one of the best leadership classes I have had in
40 years of teaching. In this class, there was a student named Anne Fox who was a very sociable leader. Anne was an
unusual student who dressed like a student from the 1960s, although it was more than two decades later. Even though
she dressed differently than the others, Anne was very caring and was liked by everyone in the class. After the first
week of the semester, Anne could name everyone in class; when attendance was taken, she knew instantly who was
there and who was not. In class discussions, Anne always contributed good ideas, and her remarks were sensitive of
others’ points of view. Anne was positive about life, and her attitude was contagious. By her presence, Anne created an
atmosphere in which everyone felt unique but also included. She was the glue that held us all together. Anne was not
assigned to be the leader in the class, but by the semester’s end she emerged as a leader. Her sociable nature enabled
her to develop strong relationships and become a leader in the class. By the end of the class, all of us were the
beneficiaries of her leadership.
Finally, and perhaps most important, effective leaders have integrity
(http://content.thuzelearning.com/books/Northouse.6443.20.1/sections/navpoint-78#s9781544351636.i5206) . Integrity
characterizes leaders who possess the qualities of honesty and trustworthiness. People who adhere to a strong set of
principles and take responsibility for their actions are exhibiting integrity. Leaders with integrity inspire confidence in
others because they can be trusted to do what they say they are going to do. They are loyal, dependable, and
transparent. Basically, integrity makes a leader believable and worthy of our trust.
Dishonesty creates mistrust in others, and dishonest leaders are seen as undependable and unreliable. Honesty helps
people to have trust and faith in what leaders have to say and what they stand for. Honesty also enhances a leader’s
ability to influence others because they have confidence in and believe in their leader.
Integrity demands being open with others and representing reality as fully and completely as possible. However, this is
not an easy task: There are times when telling the complete truth can be destructive or counterproductive. The
challenge for leaders is to strike a balance between being open and candid and monitoring what is appropriate to
disclose in a particular situation. While it is important for leaders to be authentic, it is also essential for them to have
integrity in their relationships with others.
Integrity undergirds all aspects of leadership. It is at the core of being a leader. Integrity is a central aspect of a leader’s
ability to influence. If people do not trust a leader, the leader’s influence potential is weakened. In essence, integrity is
the bedrock of who a leader is. When a leader’s integrity comes into question, his or her potential to lead is lost.
Former president Bill Clinton (1993–2001) is a good example of how integrity is related to leadership. In the late
1990s, he was brought before the U.S. Congress for misrepresenting under oath an affair he had engaged in with a
White House intern. For his actions, he was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives, but then was acquitted by
the U.S. Senate. At one point during the long ordeal, the president appeared on national television and, in what is now a
famous speech, declared his innocence. Because subsequent hearings provided information suggesting he might have
lied during his television speech, many Americans felt Clinton had violated his duty and responsibility as a person,
leader, and president. As a result, Clinton’s integrity was clearly challenged and the impact of his leadership
In conclusion, many traits are related to effective leadership. The six traits discussed here appear to be particularly
important in the leadership process. As will be revealed in subsequent chapters, leadership is a very complex process.
The traits discussed in this chapter are important but are only one dimension of a multidimensional process.
South Africa The Good
CC BY 2.0
2.2 Leadership Snapshot: Nelson Mandela, First Black President of South Africa
In 1990, when Nelson Mandela was released from prison after serving 27 long years, he was
determined not to be angry or vindictive, but instead to work to unite his country of South
Africa, which had been fractured by generations of apartheid.
The descendant of a tribal king, Mandela was born in 1918 in a small African village and
grew up in a country where Whites ruled through subjugation and tyranny over Blacks and
other races. Mandela attended Methodist missionary schools and put himself through law
school, eventually opening the first Black law partnership in 1942. His firm represented the
African National Congress, which was engaged in resisting South Africa’s apartheid policies,
and during the 1950s, he became a leader of the ANC. Influenced by Mohandas Gandhi,
Mandela was initially committed to nonviolent resistance but shifted to supporting violent
tactics when the government refused to change its apartheid policies. In 1964, Mandela
received a life sentence for plotting to overthrow the government by violence.
During the nearly three decades Mandela spent in prison, he became a symbolic figure for
the anti-apartheid movement. But during those years, Mandela spent time examining himself,
coming to see himself as others did: as an aggressive and militant revolutionary. He learned to control his temper and
strong will, instead using persuasion and emphasis to convince others. He listened to others’ life stories, including those
of the White guards, seeking to understand their perspectives. He was steadfast in maintaining his dignity, carefully
refusing to be subservient while being respectful to the guards and others. As a result, he became a natural leader inside
the prison, while outside, his fame framed him as a symbolic martyr not only to Black Africans but also to people
across the globe. Free Mandela campaigns were building around the world, with other countries and international
corporations being pressured by stockholders and citizens to “divest” in South Africa.
In 1990, South African president F. W. de Klerk, fearing civil war and economic collapse, released Mandela, at the time
71, from prison. Mandela emerged as a moral leader who stood by the principles of liberty and equal rights for all. He
began speaking around the world, raising financial support for the ANC while seeking to bring peace to his fractured
country. In 1992, the South African government instituted a new constitution and held a popular election with all
parties represented, including the ANC. The result? In 1994, Mandela was elected as the first Black president of South
Africa, effectively ending apartheid. For his role in negotiations to abolish apartheid, Mandela received the Nobel
Peace Prize, sharing it with de Klerk.
As president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, Mandela’s mission was to transform a nation from minority rule and
apartheid to a multiracial democracy. On the first day of his presidency, he set the tone with the predominantly White
staff of the former president, telling them that those who wanted to keep their jobs were welcome to stay, stating
“Reconciliation starts here.” He developed a multiracial staff and cabinet, using his friendly smiling style and tactic of
listening to all viewpoints carefully before making decisions to keep the staff focused on problems and issues rather
than on partisanship. Leadership Traits and Attributes
Mandela served his five-year term as president but, at 76 years old, chose not to seek another term. In retirement, he
continued to advocate for social causes, serving as a mediator in disputes outside of South Africa, and to bring a
message of peace and justice throughout the world. Mandela died in 2013. While it is difficult to summarize all that he
accomplished, Mandela’s legacy is best described by former U.S. president Bill Clinton, who in 2003 wrote, “Under a
burden of oppression he saw through difference, discrimination and destruction to embrace our common humanity.” Leadership Traits and Attributes
Gallery of Art/Getty Images
2.3 Leadership Traits in Practice
Throughout history, there have been many great leaders. Each of them has led with unique talents and in different
circumstances. The following section analyzes the accomplishments and the traits of six famous leaders. Although
there are hundreds of equally distinguished leaders, these six are highlighted because they represent different kinds of
leadership at different points in history. All of these leaders are recognized as being notable leaders: Each has had an
impact on many people’s lives and accomplished great things.
The leaders discussed as follows are George Washington, Winston Churchill, Mother Teresa, Bill Gates, Oprah
Winfrey, and LeBron James. As you read about each of them, think about their leadership traits.
George Washington (1732–1799)
George Washington is considered to be the founding father of the United States of America.
His leadership was pivotal in the development of this country’s government. He was truly
respected by everyone, from low-ranking soldiers to feisty public officials. He was a man of
great integrity who was a good listener. After the Revolutionary War, Washington was the
reason that various factions did not splinter into small groups or nations. He became the
United States’ first president because his leadership was so well suited for the times.
Born into a prosperous Virginia family, he grew up on a large plantation. His father died
when he was 11. Washington received formal schooling for seven years and then worked as a
surveyor. He entered the military at the age of 20. During the French and Indian War,
Washington learned about the difficulties of battle and experienced both victories and
defeats. He served as commander in chief of the Continental Army from 1775 to 1783. Leadership Traits and Attributes. His
leadership was instrumental in leading the colonies to victory over Great Britain in the
Revolutionary War. After the war, he retired to farm for a short period. In 1787, however, his interests in politics and
the nation took him to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, where he was chosen to preside over the
successful creation of the U.S. Constitution. After the Constitution was ratified, Washington was elected by 100% of
the electoral college as the first president of the United States. Washington served two terms as president (1789–1793,
1793–1797); although he had the people’s support, he chose not to serve a third term. He retired to Mount Vernon in
1797 and died there from pneumonia at the age of 67. At his funeral, one of his officers, Henry Lee, eulogized him as
an American who was “first in war, first in peace, and first in the heart of his countrymen.”
Washington’s legacy, however, has been tarnished somewhat by the fact that he was a slave owner. He and his wife,
Martha Custis Washington, had 317 slaves at their home, Mount Vernon. While president, Washington still managed
the affairs of his estate through letters to his slave overseers. He was both a firm disciplinarian, ordering whippings of
rebellious slaves, and a beneficent master, providing midwives and doctors to care for his workers when needed. In his
will, however, he stipulated that 123 of the slaves, which were his property alone, should be freed. The rest were to be
freed by his wife in 1801.
Traits and Characteristics; Leadership Traits and Attributes
George Washington exhibited many special leadership traits (Brookhiser, 1996; Burns & Dunn, 2004; Fishman, 2001;
Higginbotham, 2002). Researchers identify him as a modest man with great moral character who demonstrated
integrity, virtuousness, and wisdom in his leadership. Though neither highly educated nor brilliant, he is reported to
have read 10 newspapers each day. He was tall, and careful about his appearance. For much of his life, he kept a daily
record of his work. Although reserved, as a military leader he was brave and tenacious. Rather than use power to his
own ends, he gave up his position as commander in chief after the war. Washington provided stability, reason, and order
after the American Revolution when the United States was in its formative stages. His evenness made him predictable
Walter Leadership Traits and Attributes
to the American people, who considered him trustworthy. Above all, Washington was a prudent leader who made sound Leadership Traits and Attributes
judgments and provided balance and wisdom to the new government. In his lifetime, he never publicly condemned
slavery, but he made provision in his will for his slaves to be freed upon the death of his wife, Martha. Washington was
a special leader with many unique talents who, as Schwartz (1987, p. 147) has suggested, “was ‘great’ because he was
Winston Churchill (1874–1965)
Winston Churchill was one of the greatest statesmen and orators of the 20th century. In
addition, he was a talented painter and prolific writer; he received the Nobel Prize in
Literature in 1953. Churchill served in the military during World War I, became prime
minister of Great Britain in May 1940, and remained in that office through World War II,
until 1945. It was at this time that his masterful leadership was most visible. When the
Germans threatened to invade Britain, Churchill stood strong. He made many famous
speeches that had far-reaching effects on the morale of the people of Great Britain and the
Allied forces. On the home front, he was a social reformer. He served a second term as prime
minister from 1951 to 1955. He died at the age of 90 in 1965.
Traits and Characteristics
Winston Churchill’s leadership was remarkable because it emerged from a man who was
average in many respects and who faced challenges in his personal life. In his education, he did not stand out as
superior to others. On a societal level, he was a loner who had few friends. On a personal level, he suffered from bouts
of depression throughout his life. Despite these characteristics, Churchill emerged as a leader because of his other
unique gifts and how he used them (Hayward, 1997; Keegan, 2002; Sandys & Littman, 2003). A voracious reader,
Churchill was plain speaking, decisive, detail oriented, and informed (Hayward, 1997). Furthermore, he was very
ambitious, for himself, but also for his nation. He evoked strong reactions among his followers. His political opponents
characterized him as pugnacious, egotistical, and dangerous while his supporters thought him charismatic, courageous,
and a genius (Addison, 2005). His most significant talent was his masterful use of language. In his oratory, the normally
plainspoken Churchill used words and imagery in powerful ways that touched the hearts of many and set the moral
climate of the war (Keegan, 2002). He had the ability to build hope and inspire others to rise to the challenge. His
stoicism and optimism were an inspiration to his people and all of the Allied forces (Sandys & Littman, 2003).
Mother Teresa (1910–1997)
A Roman Catholic nun considered a saint by many, Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace
Prize in 1979 for her work with the poor and helpless in Kolkata, India, and throughout the
world. Born in Macedonia, Mother Teresa came from a comfortable background. At the age
of 18, she joined the Catholic Sisters of Loreto order and worked for 17 years as a high
school teacher in Kolkata. Her awareness of poverty in Kolkata caused her to leave the
convent in 1948 to devote herself to working full-time with the poorest of the poor in the
slums of the city. In 1950, Mother Teresa founded a new religious order, the Missionaries of
Charity, to care for the hungry, homeless, unwanted, and unloved.
Today, more than 1 million workers are affiliated with the Missionaries of Charity in more than 40 countries. The
charity provides help to people who have been hurt by floods, epidemics, famines, and war. The Missionaries of
Charity also operate hospitals, schools, orphanages, youth centers, shelters for the sick, and hospices. For her
humanitarian work and efforts for peace, Mother Teresa has been recognized with many awards, including the Pope
John XXIII Peace Prize (1971), the Nehru Award (1972), the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom (1985), and the
Congressional Gold Medal (1994). Although she struggled with deteriorating health in her later years, Mother Teresa
remained actively involved in her work to the very end. She died at the age of 87 in 1997. In September 2016, Pope
Francis declared Mother Teresa a saint, with the official name of Saint Teresa of Kolkata. In a statement announcing the
canonization, the Vatican called her a “metaphor for selfless devotion and holiness” (Lyman, 2016).
Traits and Characteristics
Mother Teresa was a simple woman of small stature who dressed in a plain blue and white sari, and who never owned
more than the people she served. Mirroring her appearance, her mission was simple—to care for the poor. From her
first year on the streets of Kolkata where she tended to one dying person to her last years when thousands of people
were cared for by the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa stayed focused on her goal. She was a true civil servant
who was simultaneously determined and fearless, and humble and spiritual. She often listened to the will of God. When
criticized for her stand on abortion and women’s role in the family, or her approaches to eliminating poverty, Mother
Teresa responded with a strong will; she never wavered in her deep-seated human values. Teaching by example with
few words, she was a role model for others. Clearly, Mother Teresa was a leader who practiced what she preached
(Gonzalez-Balado, 1997; Sebba, 1997; Spink, 1997; Vardey, 1995).
Bill Gates (1955– )
For many years, William (Bill) H. Gates III, cofounder and chair of Microsoft Corporation,
the world’s largest developer of software for personal computers, was the wealthiest person
in the world with assets estimated at more than $70 billion. A self-made man, Gates began
his interest in computers at the age of 13 when he and a friend developed their first computer
software program. He later attended Harvard University but left, without graduating, to focus
on software development. He cofounded Microsoft in 1975. Under Gates’s leadership,
Microsoft developed the well-known Microsoft Disk Operating System (MS-DOS),
Windows operating system, and Internet Explorer browser. Microsoft is one of the fastestgrowing and most profitable companies ever established. From the success of Microsoft,
Gates and his wife established the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000 to reduce
inequities and improve lives around the world. This foundation promotes education,
addresses global health issues (such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis), sponsors
libraries, and supports housing and community initiatives in the Pacific Northwest.
Beginning in 2006, Gates transitioned away from his day-to-day operating role at Microsoft to spend more time
working with his foundation, but he remained the corporation’s chair. In February 2014, however, Gates stepped down
as the company’s board chairman in order to increase his involvement in the company’s operations, serving in a new
role of technology adviser and mentor to the company’s new CEO Satya Nadella. Gates continues to tackle global
challenges as cochair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has become the world’s largest private charitable
Traits and Characteristics
Bill Gates is both intelligent and visionary. When he cofounded Microsoft, he had a vision about how to meet the
technological needs of people in the future, and he hired friends to help him accomplish that vision. Gates is also task
oriented and diligent, often working 12 or more hours a day to promote his interest in software product development.
Furthermore, Gates is focused and aggressive. When Microsoft was accused by the U.S. government of antitrust
violations, Gates appeared before congressional hearings and strongly defended his company. When asked about
whether he has a “win at all cost” mentality, he answered that you bring people together to work on products and make
products better, but there is never a finish line—there are always challenges ahead (Jager & Ortiz, 1997, pp. 151–152).
In his personal style, Gates is simple, straightforward, unpretentious, and altruistic: He has demonstrated a strong
concern for the poor and underserved.
Everett Collection Inc/Alamy
Oprah Winfrey (1954– )
An award-winning television talk show host, Oprah Winfrey is one of the most powerful and
influential women in the world. Born in rural Mississippi into a dysfunctional family, she
was raised by her grandmother until she was 6. Winfrey learned to read at a very early age
and skipped two grades in school. Her adolescent years were difficult: While living in innercity Milwaukee with her mother, who worked two jobs, Winfrey was molested by a family
member. Despite these experiences, she was an honors student in high school and received
national accolades for her oratory ability. She received a full scholarship to Tennessee State
University, where she studied communication and worked at a local radio station. Winfrey’s
work in the media eventually led her to Chicago where she became host of the highly
acclaimed Oprah Winfrey Show. In 2007, Winfrey was the highest-paid entertainer in
television, earning an annual salary estimated at $260 million. She also is an actor, a
producer, a book critic, and a magazine publisher and, in 2011, left her successful television
show to concentrate on her television network, OWN. For years, Winfrey had publicly
battled her weight, using her struggles as inspiration for her millions of fans to lead healthier lives. In 2015, Winfrey
become a 10% stockholder and board member of the diet empire Weight Watchers. Winfrey, who has long shown an
interest in health issues and dieting programs, serves as an adviser to the company, using her undeniable clout to further
encourage others to engage in healthier lifestyles.
Her total wealth is estimated at more than $3.1 billion. Winfrey is also a highly regarded philanthropist: Her giving has
focused on making a difference in the lives of the underprivileged and poor. Winfrey has paid special attention to the
needs of people in Africa, raising millions of dollars to help AIDS-affected children there and creating a leadership
academy for girls in a small town near Johannesburg, South Africa.
Traits and Characteristics
Oprah Winfrey’s remarkable journey from rural poverty to influential world leader can be explained by several of her
strengths (Harris & Watson, 2007; Illouz, 2003; McDonald, 2007). Foremost, Winfrey is an excellent communicator.
Since she was a little girl reciting Bible passages in church, she has been comfortable in front of an audience. On
television, she is able to talk to millions of people and have each person feel as if she is talking directly to him or her.
Winfrey is also intelligent and well read, with a strong business sense. She is sincere, determined, and inspirational.
Winfrey has a charismatic style of leadership that enables her to connect with people. She is spontaneous and
expressive, and has a fearless ability to self-disclose. Because she has “been in the struggle” and survived, she is seen
as a role model. Winfrey has overcome many obstacles in her life and encourages others to overcome their struggles as
well. Her message is a message of hope.
LeBron James (1984– )
LeBron James is a professional basketball player for the Los Angeles Lakers (NBA), whose
extraordinary athletic skills and accomplishments are recognized worldwide. When James
was in high school, his exceptional talent had already been recognized by NBA scouts, and
he was selected as the Cleveland Cavaliers’ first overall draft pick in 2003. James has been
with three different teams during his professional career (Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat,
and L.A. Lakers), setting numerous scoring records and winning several Most Valuable
Player awards. He has won two Olympic gold medals and three NBA championships—two
with Miami and one with Cleveland.
Because of his skill and subsequent fame, James has considerable influence among his fans,
his teammates, other professional athletes, and the wider public. In 2017, Time magazine
identified him as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. James has used his
stature to speak out about NBA rules he thinks should be changed, mistakes made by the
Cavaliers’ front office, and racist comments by NBA owners. At other times, he has been more reserved on
controversial issues even when pressured by the public to take a stand. Although he has strong views on racial injustice
and politics, James is also aware of the value of his brand and, like many Black professional athletes before him, has
had to consider how to use his platform to advocate for what he believes in without alienating followers.
James is the constant subject of public scrutiny, both for his on-court performance and for his off-court comments and
behavior. He was loudly criticized in the press for leaving Cleveland in 2010 to play for Miami in his quest to win an
NBA championship. Now in Los Angeles, when his team doesn’t play well, James is often the first to be criticized. In
July 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump criticized James on Twitter following an interview on CNN where the athlete
stated that the president was “using sports to kind of divide us” (Soisson, 2018).
Despite his superstar status, James is still true to his humble roots. He grew up in Akron, Ohio, under challenging
circumstances that motivated him to give back to underresourced communities. He has supported numerous causes and
community outreach programs, including Boys & Girls Clubs of America, the Children’s Defense Fund, and a wholehouse renovation for a needy family, where he contributed his own labor, fitting it in around his training schedule with
the Cavaliers (Curtis, 2016). In 2004, in just his second year as a pro basketball player, James established the LeBron
James Family Foundation to improve the lives of children and teens in Akron through educational and cocurricular
programs. In 2018, the LJFF opened the I PROMISE School, of which James said, “This school is so important to me
because our vision is to create a place for the kids in Akron who need it most—those that could fall through the cracks
if we don’t do something. We’ve learned over the years what works and what motivates them, and now we can bring all
of that together in one place, along with the right resources and experts” (Evans, 2017).
Traits and Characteristics
LeBron James has many qualities that contribute to his effectiveness as a leader. He has physical power and the ability
to dominate other players on the basketball court. He has great confidence in his basketball skills, which inspires
teammates to perform at high levels as well. He is a consistent performer, being selected to play in 15 NBA All-Star
Games. He is ambitious and determined to win championships. He has the endurance to play for many years to come,
but even now is thinking about the next phase of his life, and the legacy he will leave behind. He operates out of a
strong set of principles, such as giving back to his community. He has the emotional maturity and resilience to handle
criticism and learn from it. His charisma has earned him spots on many magazine covers, and numerous invitations to
host or be a guest on TV talk shows.
All of these individuals have exhibited exceptional leadership. While each of these leaders is unique, together they
share many common characteristics. All are visionary, strong willed, diligent, and inspirational. As purpose-driven
leaders, they are role models and symbols of hope. Reflecting on the characteristics of these extraordinary leaders will
provide you with a better understanding of the traits that are important for effective leadership. Although you may not
aspire to be another Bill Gates or Mother Teresa, you can learn a great deal from these leaders in understanding how
your own traits affect your leadership.