After three years at Penn State and two in the PLA, how would you now define the

traits of an effective leader?

Extensive discussion, research, and studying have gone into understanding the traits of an effective leader. Some of the conclusions agree with each other, but overall, results seem to indicate that there is no particular set of traits that will inevitably make the person possessing them become a leader. Instead, the specific environment into which a person is placed essentially chooses the leader suited for it. If that person’s unique combination of traits fit the situation, they have the opportunity to become an effective leader.

Notably, effectiveness says nothing about morality; some highly effective leaders have been extraordinarily greedy and manipulative while others have been trustworthy and compassionate. In analyzing leadership traits in terms of effectiveness, we can set aside for now the variations in morality and ethics that precipitate different types of effectiveness.

One of the most significant traits of an effective leader seems to be either strong communication skills or, similarly, an ability to express themselves and share their ideas. To stand out as a representative of a group or community, a person must first be heard and become recognizable amongst members of the group, distinguishable from all the other members. As an example, picture an outgoing member of a student organization. Suppose this person is sociable, and is a good representative of the group overall, participating in the organization’s activities and believing in the group’s core values. In an election for an executive position in the organization, this person could be a qualified candidate. On the other hand, maybe someone in the organization regularly participates in activities and keeps a carefully balanced schedule. This person could be quiet but contribute ideas during meetings that tend to gain member support. In the same election, this person could also be a good candidate. To find out who would be more likely to win, we would have to determine the organization’s goals to see which candidate would probably be chosen to help the organization reach those goals. If the organization wants to spread awareness, then the outgoing person might be the better choice, whereas the quieter person with many good ideas might be better if the organization wants to try out new activities within the community.

In a similar vein, a person must be able to explain their convictions, goals, and opinions clearly so that other people can enter the conversation and potentially become a member of whatever new group may

form. A lone person running amok shouting their views and collecting no supporters is simply a person exercising their freedom of speech to little avail. If a person shares their ideas and strikes a chord with others who then decide to join forces, this person will have an opportunity to lead the newly formed group in establishing its roots. Thereafter, this person still might not become a leader, though. It is possible that one of the new group members could step up, express their goals for the group, and lead the other members toward such a goal. In other words, the person who initially went out to share ideas acted as the original hub of information, pulling people into the group and giving them some belief or ideal upon which to build the group dynamic. However, this person might not prove to be the best communicator or encourager or teacher, whatever the group may need, to move the group toward its goals.

It seems more natural to picture a situation in which the person who raises awareness or gets attention for a particular topic becomes the automatic leader of whatever sort of interested people they gather. However, some other factors must be taken into account. For example, an effective leader must be respected by those they wish to lead. Disrespect within the group causes fissures that do not mend until respect is restored or the leader is ousted. Otherwise, the group will dissociate into factions, each with its own leader and specific agenda, or worse – the organization could be destroyed. A respected leader is able to produce results by encouraging others, pushing when necessary, and making executive decisions. Such a leader can direct the processes that make the group function as a whole, but a person can only lead this way if others accept and willingly follow them.

Reliability is a key factor in effective leadership, as well, and it can help increase respect for the person possessing it. A leader should hold to their convictions and support the group’s ideology, but at the same time they should be open to change when necessary. Leaders should not falter in the face of adversity, nor should they bend to the powers of opposing groups. However, leaders must be openminded to be most effective, and group members should have a sense that the leader is doing what they believe is best for the group. This includes times when facts and data support an alteration of the leader’s and the group’s ideology.

Reliability also manifests itself in other ways. Being consistently easy to contact, present at meetings, and involved in discussions and decision-making processes is extremely important because it shows organization members that the leader is always interested and invested in the organization. In other

words, a leader is more effective if they are supportive of the group and focused on the end goals and success of the group.

Demonstrating strong focus on the progress of an organization and always looking forward, adapting to situations and environments to best serve the organization, is a sign of determination and is also important in an effective leader. Members of a group look to each other and their leader for encouragement or optimism. Determination tends to bring out encouraging, reassuring, or go-get-‘em attitudes in leaders, which diffuses into the attitudes of group members and urges them onward.

So far I’ve focused on a more positive leadership style, where respect for a person’s accomplishments, personality, or ideas causes a group to raise that person to a higher level of authority. However, history has indicated that sometimes negative styles of leadership are very effective, as well. Fear, for instance, is a strong human motivator and can prove much more influential than respect. Some people have no qualms about taking advantage of this. In fact, people’s fear has been utilized in religion, politics, business, medicine, and countless other areas of our lives. In politics, for example, a representative vying for a presidential nomination could make some citizens fear what would happen if his opponent won the nomination. In an illegitimate business, the leader may have risen to that position by making others in the business fear him. Blackmail or threats of violence can unfortunately be an efficient and convincing way to make subordinates do what they’re told.

Though we can’t always discount negative leadership styles and associated leaders’ traits as effective, we can certainly hope that there will always be a counteracting, positively-lead group to oppose the immorality of another. In the end, these are the groups that will gain the most support. They must ensure that their leadership positions are filled with people possessing traits that make the group stronger. These leaders will be most effective – they may be respected, open-minded, focused, loyal, generous, or a huge assortment of other things. In any given situation, the people with the required traits will stand out as effective, and often, these people will become the leaders that draw the group onward.

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