"The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority". Great leaders are
influential, and become great leaders only because of what we as society place in them. Humans
are always trying to be better, to strive for the top. This is why we naturally look toward those
who we see as superiors; they allows us to visualize what we wish to become. These "superiors"
have certain psychological traits like intelligence, wisdom, and confidence which makes other
people feel comfortable with letting them lead, and following. There is also an inborn natural
sense of "who leads?" in humans, and in the wild in general. The "superior" or those who are
seen as "more likely to survive" in prehistoric times, automatically became leaders because no one
opposed them; it was seen that they were the best. This is found in most aspects and facets of
Speaking on the latter, humans do indeed have a natural sense of leaders. In the animal
kingdom, leaders are chosen because of their ability to survive and their ability to "be the best".
The "ruler" lion only got to being monarch by proving he was strongest in his pride. The strongest
is the most likely to survive in the wild, therefore he is seen as the leader of the tribe. The same is
true with humans; people will automatically look up to those who appear as superiors.
Appearance plays an enormous part of it. This is where "tall, dark and handsome" comes into
effect. Humans who are tall, dark and handsome have been proven to be more "biologically
perfect", and "genetically advanced"*. Subconsciously, humans know this, and therefore we are
attracted to, and place trust in these people as superiors; even if that trust is not well placed. Take
the example of the not so well known American President Warren Harding. Warren Harding has
been analyzed for political strengths, and political analysts have shown that he had none! He was
"the worst president this side of Lincoln"! The people of the United States chose him, not because
of his right to lead, but because he had a "presidential look to him". He "fit the part" in other
words, and the American Public had the subconscious feeling that he was competent and able to
lead because of his appearance. Their natural minds were playing tricks on them. So its not to say
that handsome people can lead, or that they can't, but simply that humans see them as leaders
more easily then most others.
Apart from physical appearance, humans have a sense of those who are good leaders because
of certain characteristics that they have. Courage, intelligence, integrity, confidence, wisdom,
foresight are all "trail markers" to natural leaders. The average person follows a leader, or releases
control to them, because they are seen as making better decisions then that persons themselves is.
Therefore that leader has to have the traits of being able to make decisions. Making decisions is
something we have all experienced, and therefore we all know what is required to make a good
one. That is why we look for a person with certain characteristics when we look for or at a leader.
Intelligence, this is one of the first things people look for in a leader. "Is the person smart?" the
big question, is the person smarter then me? Because of what political analysts call the "superiority
complex" (Morgan, King, 1956, Introduction to Psychology, Chapter14), people do evaluate how much
a leader is more competent or able then they are. Intelligence is one of the first to be evaluated.
No one will ever place trust in someone who is less "smart" or intelligent then they are. It goes
against nature. Therefore a leader must be seen as intelligent, and fast on his or her "mind's feet",
able to process information given to him or her in an agile way. They are also expected to be
knowledgeable. People only use this to evaluate a leader to a certain extent. Leaders are not
expected to know everything, but people immediately loose trust in them if they don't know
something that person views as important.
"Many call it stupidity, I call it bluff ". Courage is a very important aspect in great leaders.
Because people follow them, they expect the person to make the decisions that they, themselves
couldn't or wouldn't. This is why courage is so essential, the leader has to be able to make the
decisions that the normal person wouldn't. Otherwise the person (and people in general)
wouldn't really need a leader, would they? To be able to take the chances, explore the options, and
dare to confront the opposition (whatever or whoever it may be) in a fashion that normal people
would not or could not do, places great support from the people into that leader. People admire
other people who can take chances and get positive results from it. Most people don't take
chances because they are afraid of what the results will be. When a leader can take a chance and
get a great result, it puts that person in high esteem with the general public.
Integrity is very important in leadership, but in an interesting way. Its not so much that you
have to have integrity to "become" a leader, but that you must have it to "survive" as leader. When
people choose a leader they consciously or subconsciously look at that person's record. Whether
its actually researching the person, or just mentally searching to see if you've ever heard that
person or perceived that person in a bad light. Because a leader becomes such due to his ability to
make decisions others need, or can't make, he needs to be trusted by the public to make those
decisions in a way that they see fits with their views and opinions. The general public gives the
leader certain powers and control, therefore they need to be able to trust that he will use those to
the best of his ability to benefit them and to fulfill why he is a leader in the first place. Especially in
today's society where we have much control over our lives, and we resist external control of our
affairs and lives, the leader can't have anything that makes us doubt his integrity and ability to
govern us, otherwise we "throw him or her out". Once the person has been elected, or chosen as
leader, there is enormous pressure to maintain that integrity. Abusing the power that the populous
gives you is incredibly dangerous as then they revolt and overthrow the leader. Just like in life,
integrity is important in all relationships, whether husband to wife, or leader to people.
Confidence is alike to courage when talking about leadership. Because the leader's job is to
make the decisions that normal people wouldn't or couldn't, he or she has to do it in a confident
way. They can't be seen as week; making a decision that they are not very sure on. Just like with
courage, the leader has to be confident and show the public that they are able to make those
decisions,and that the trust the public has placed in them is well placed. They are competent to do
the job properly and not waver in their decisions.
Wisdom and foresight, probably the most well known aspects of leadership are the hardest to
define and apply. A leader does not need to be wise, thought great leaders are often wise, and
often display great feats of wisdom. Wisdom is being able to use your experience and intelligence,
shape and form them with good judgement, into the best result possible. Leaders that are able to
do this become successful very fast and are held in very high esteem, and sometimes love, by the
people. The classic answer to "what must a leader have to be a good leader?" is vision. Going back
to decisions, people want someone more worthy then themselves to make important decisions for
them, but to be able to make them feel like they are making or taking part in the decisions
themselves "a leader succeeds when they can make the people think they are thinking, but fails
when the people think". They want to know what the leader is thinking because sometimes, they
second guess and try to find proof that the leader is flawed and that they are better. Therefore, the
leader must have vision to be admired and loved by the people. The people can know what the
leader is planning and can change, edit, or affect that plan, and they can feel more in control of their
own lives. Vision is needed as a safeguard against stupid, untrusting people. If the public truly trusted
the leader as a leader, then they would not need to second guess and know everything about that
leaders plans and actions.
A great example of an effective leader was the great roman, Marcus Antonius (George
Long, 1871, The Meditations of Marcus Antonius). Antonius was a seen as a great leader (George Long,
1997, American Psychology Journal) for many of the above psychological reasons. He was viewed as
arrogant by his fellow leaders of state, but the people interpreted his arrogance as confidence and
courage(Henry Hooverman, 2001, American Psychology Journal). He spent most of his life fighting the
Germanic tribes (Richard Jennings, 1996, "The Roman Crusades"), and when he came back to civilian
life, his war experience just boosted the view of his courage (Richard Jennings, 1996, "The Roman
Crusades"). So the people trusted him to be confident and courageous, but he was much more
then that to them. He was a clever man, who used it to his advantage to influence the senators of
Rome in his favor. When a secret plan to overthrow him was uncovered, he "lay in wait" until they
planned to strike and then cut them down in front of the senate. This gave everyone the
impression that he was very intelligent and that he has a very good sense of "current affairs", or
what was going on in his city (Sheila Hastings, 2002, "The Teachings of the Roman Leaders"). He
didn't have much of a vision for Rome apart from the typical selfish things like wealth, but the
people didn't mind because in those times (Sheila Hastings, 2002, "The Teachings of the Roman
Leaders"), more emphasis was placed on courage and confidence, which he certainly had. He was
seen as a great leader because of his power over the people, power that in a way, the people
themselves gave him. His psychological attributes contributed immensely to his success.
Overall, great leaders are born not made. There are certain things that some people are born
with, and some people are not. You cannot make someone intelligent, or make someone have
foresight and vision. The things that affect the world naturally are simply created naturally, and can't
change that, its nature. Great leaders have a combination of public trust, and personal confidence
and they must use these to everyone's advantage and not exploit the power that we naturally give
The Psycology of Great Leaders
"The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority". Great leaders are