The characteristics of leaders

This writer has been an observer of leadership styles for over a half-century and has often spoken at such programs as Leadership New Hampshire and Leadership Manchester. Questions asked at all of them include: How many leadership positions have people in them who are not leaders? How many people have you seen who are leaders who are not in leadership positions? Why?

Classic characteristics of true leaders should be compared to what we have seen in the recent crisis, for good and for ill. Some have risen to the challenge in ways that many may not have expected. Some, even in high positions, have become seemingly irrelevant, or almost so. Characteristics include:

Leaders seek to unite their people in a common purpose. A common understanding of mission, and common commitment to it, is essential if people are to be motivated. Leaders are able to unite the people. Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt. Washington led the colonials against the British.  Roosevelt united the people against the Depression and then the Nazis.

Leaders take responsibility. Leaders do not blame others, point fingers at their predecessors or otherwise focus on scapegoats.  Leaders admit mistakes, learn and gain respect by being honest.

• Leaders tell the truth. Leaders rely on telling their followers the facts — to do otherwise will ultimately result in disrespect and disunity, since those following will figure out they are not being told the truth. Relying on the facts has the added advantage of consistency. Making up facts leads to disrespect and confusion.

Leaders listen. True leaders surround themselves with people who know more than they do and who will tell them the truth, whether they want to hear it or not. Such people are valued, not fired. That way, leaders learn and can educate their followers on the correct course of action, which gains respect of those who will respect those with the guts to tell the truth.

• Leaders are selfless. Leaders usually have the urge to stay in their positions, but true leaders put the good of the group ahead of the good of the leader.

• Leaders would rather be right than popular. Leaders have to figure out what the right course is, and then sell it to their followers, which often results in periods of disagreement, distrust and agony, but in the end results in the followers recognizing the wisdom of the leader’s position. Think Winston Churchill here.

Leaders are consistent. Truth does not change with the winds or the headlines. It is not subject to what appears in tweets or on cable TV.

This is not an exhaustive list, but it is a pretty good start. Think about what we have seen from those in front of us during the stay-at-home — the president, vice president, public health officials, doctors, governors, police chiefs and firemen, first responders, nurses, grocery store workers, etc. Take a little time to compare and contrast those who have been delivering messages to us all over the last couple of months, and compare them to the leadership traits listed above. When you do this, it may inform your choices, as it should inform all of ours, as to who should be our leaders going forward, and who should not.

As New Hampshire continues to experience a new way of life dealing with the Covid-19 crisis, the state has called upon citizens to address several of the major issues facing it.

Gov. Chris Sununu has appointed groups to advise on the proper spending of federal funds received by the state, and to advise on the ultimate way we reopen the economy, safely.

Secretary of State William Gardner and his staff are working with the attorney general’s staff to figure out how elections go forward, regardless of the health situation in September and November.  He has appointed a committee of six people, including this writer, to help advise on this. It is important that the goals of secure and reliable elections and the ability of voters to vote in a healthy and secure environment both be assured, so it will be important for all citizens to have input in the process for all these matters. On these important subjects, with these public bodies considering them, the input of everyone, is not only critical, but invited.  Please let the government know what you think.

Brad Cook is a Manchester attorney. The views expressed in this column are his own. He can be reached at

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