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Three Essential Qualities of Leadership Essay

What is a leader? According to Kouzes and Posner, leadership is “the art of mobilizing others to want to struggle for a shared aspiration”, and indeed, these men go further to posit that leadership transcends a certain mode of behavior, rather, that it is an active set of skills and qualities that is clearly apparent. (Kouzes & Posner, 2012) An essential quality then, is a quality in leader that is necessary to achieving the goal of inspiring subordinates to said struggle.

This essay will attempt to identify the three essential qualities of leadership from a stimulus, namely an episode of Undercover Boss. The three essential qualities that can be extrapolated from the film are competency, charisma and consistency, as these skills have been shown to inspire colleagues to action and breed trust between the leader and his or her charges, which is key to successful communication (Bordum, 2005) which is the foundation for the execution of the former.

Competency in leaders gives the leader credibility in the eyes of his subordinates, which in turn inspires confidence in and thus a willingness to submit to said leader’s leadership. We examine this phenomenon through the example of Walter, a day manager at Waste Management. Although Walter suffers from a crippling ailment that requires him to be under dialysis a large part of the week, Walter is still able to carry out his job well, making him a role model for his new recruit, whom his story inspired to at least try to do better. In today’s modern and increasingly liberal world, leaders are no longer conferred their title through blood relations or rank. In today’s world, a leader must live up to the expectation of the people he leads- he or she must make sure his subordinates actively want to submit to his or her leadership. (Kouzes & Posner, 2011)

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The foundation of the leader- subordinate relationship is credibility, which creates trust in the leader and which is key to inspiring subordinates to action. (Bordum, 2005) Walter’s extreme proficiency even in the face of his handicap is a display of his merit, that his leadership position was well deserved, thus breeding in his subordinates a willingness to struggle for a shared aspiration, thus making competency an essential quality of leadership. Next, consistency in leaders breeds trust in the leader, which goes towards maintaining the credibility gained from competency (as we have discussed in the previous paragraph) and thus, while it does not actively serve to gain credibility or inspire on its own, but rather helps maintain the level of credibility created through the leader’s skill set.

We examine the example of Jaclyn, another manager at Waste Management. Due to downsizing in the company, Jaclyn is made to juggle the workloads of multiple jobs, and is underpaid and struggling to pay her taxes. Despite her many woes, Jaclyn still keeps up a positive attitude, and consistently performs her tasks well, earning her respect and credibility in her subordinates. It is a common adage that succeeding once is easy, but doing it consistently, is much more difficult. As mentioned earlier, leaders are being judged by their subordinates, who hold their leaders to high expectations, which are to be fulfilled consistently. Should the leader disappoint in this respect, the leader loses his or her credibility (Kouzes and Posner, 2011)

However, a leader that consistently lives up to the standards is a leader that will actively maintain if not increase her credibility, as consistent competency inspires trust in said leader’s subordinates (Whipple, 2002) , in turn creating credibility, and as discussed in the former paragraph, this credibility goes towards inspiring others into the struggle for the shared aspiration. Jaclyn’s consistency in her performance, in the face of difficulty looming over her, grants her trust in her subordinates, thus allowing her to mobilize them towards their shared aspiration. Hence we see how consistency links into the maintenance of a leader’s credibility, allowing the leader to continue mobilizing subordinates towards a common goal.

Finally, charisma is an important quality of leadership as it helps a leader communicate an aspiration to the group and influences subordinates to want to partake in the aspiration, thus creating the shared aspiration. For example, a manager that supervises the cleaning of portable toilets for Waste Management uses this charisma to help his subordinate find the job fun. Charisma is an important part of leadership as charismatic leaders are emotionally expressive, eloquent, charming (House, Spangler and Woycke, 1991) and are thus able to communicate a goal to their subordinates and persuade them to sacrifice personal aspirations to partake in a common goal, mobilizing them toward a shared aspiration (Fiske, Gilbert and Lindzey, 2010)

In the example, the manager was able to communicate the objective of cleaning toilets, but uses his charisma in order to win over his subordinate, and allow them to share the objective of cleaning out the toilets. Thus we see how central charisma is in generating the shared aspiration in the first place, and in conjunction with the two qualities mentioned previously, help encourage and mobilize subordinates to action, thus making it a quality essential to leadership The three skills of consistency, competency and charisma are thus important- essential, if you will- qualities for being a good leader, and inspiring one’s colleagues into action towards a common objective


Bordum, A. (2005). Trust and leadership. CBS OpenArchive. Retrieved from http://openarchive.cbs.dk/handle/10398/7671

House, RJ., Spangler,WD. & Woycke, J. (1991) Personality and charisma in the us presidency: a psychological theory of leader effectiveness. Administrative Science Quarterly, 36(3), pp 394-396. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/2393201?uid=3738992&uid=2&uid=4&sid=21101663020273

Kouzes, J. & Posner, B. (2011) Credibility: how leaders gain and lose it, why people want it. John Wiley. and Sons Inc

Kouzes, J., & Posner, B. (2012). The leadership challenge. John Wiley and Sons Inc.

Lindzey, G., Fiske, S., & Gilbert, D. (2010). Handbook of social psychology. (Vol. 2). John Wiley and Sons Inc. Retrieved from http://books.google.com.sg/books?id=Pye5IkCFgRYC&pg=PA1194&dq=charisma in leadership&hl=en&sa=X&ei=i4kgUZ7EMMTtrAe7jYHYCw&ved=0CDsQ6AEwAg

Whipple, R. (2002). Consistency can help leaders prevent lack of trust. Rochester Business Journal, Retrieved from http://webs.zd-cms.com/cms/res/files/371/RBJArticle112902.pdf

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