One Young World
One Young World

The characteristics of a true leader

By Sam Bradley

Many studies have been done on leadership and, countless philosophers and theorists have attempted to discover its secrets. Following suit, I submit this list of characteristics that I believe make a great leader.

A leader is a person with confidence in him/her self and their ability. They cannot be one dimensional, as true leadership is not refined to any context or situation. Rather, leaders need to have the confidence to lead in a variety of situations. They should constantly be testing their skills by leading new challenges and completing unique tasks. True leadership cannot be learned, it cannot be bought and it certainly cannot be faked.

Having an older and wiser mentor to guide a person through difficult times is essential to every leader; having the humility to learn from that mentor – that is wisdom. The path to achieving greatness as a leader involves recognising that we all make mistakes that we can learn from, and that we don’t have all the answers all the time.

Inter-personal skills
To be a leader in this Rainbow Nation of ours is not an easy task. Coming from such a splintered past, a true leader of the new South Africa prioritises racial harmony. This leader accepts all beliefs, embraces all cultures, learns all languages and calls each man brother. This leader recognises that every person has unique skills and talents, and only when those skills are harnessed together in a team is everyone’s true potential fully realised.

Our generation — often referred to as the ‘lost generation’ — is in desperate need of spiritual guidance. The leaders of today are the moral compass for the people of tomorrow. Now more than ever, leaders need to be blameless and completely above reproach. The leader of tomorrow needs to stand for honour and integrity. Actions need to be transparent, as winning the trust of the public is needed to succeed as a leader.

A leader is someone who is always pushing themselves onwards and upwards. Leaders relish new challenges and opportunities to test their skills in new and unique ways. No leader will become a leader by following in the footsteps of others – it is up to each leader to forge their own path. As written by Spanish poet Antonio Machado “Traveller, there is no path, only the wakes of ships upon the ocean.”

As the discerning reader would have noticed, the anagram shows that a true leader is a CHIEF.

Mr Mandela, as we honour you and your accomplishments on Mandela day, we note that you have been an inspirational leader that encapsulates all of these characteristics. Your life and accomplishments will forever leave an imprint over our land and over our history.

As we gaze into the future (some of us with hope, some with trepidation and all with curiosity) the question is: “who will lead us forward?”. The past has given us an army of great leaders to emulate, and the future gives us the opportunity to join their ranks. The future is there, and it is there to be seized. If we don’t, who will?

Sam Bradley is a One Young World delegate who is representing the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (Saica).

  • Peter Joffe

    Qualities of leadership in South Africa are.
    1) Tell people and promise people what they want to hear no matter that you will and never can deliver on them.
    2) Know the right up-line leaders and support them. Be an active “Party” member.
    3) Participate actively in all spheres of corruption and fraud.There is no place for the good guys in the New South Africa so access to the inneer circles is impossible for them.
    No other qualities or skills are needed other than multple bank accounts around the world.
    Leadership in South Africa retired along with Madiba. Now we have deceivership.

  • Dick

    The irony is that the vast majority of the electorate require to exercise these attributes for Madiba’s leadership to have lasting effect.

  • CeboNathi

    @P joffe,

    What utter nonsense.Your views on SA are biased in favour of the country failing.SA is respected throughout the world.SA is the powerhouse of Africa.Everyobody who is anybody wants to be associated with SA.British Premier David Cameron recently pledged close cooperation with SA economically and he is not the only leader to do so.

    A nobody like you only sees doom and gloom when more influential people & heads of states see a bright future for SA.

    Try your best to leave this country and it will be good riddance

  • Thandinkosi Sibisi

    Interesting points.However in discussing “true leadership” a number of issues seem to be taken for granted.

    Is a “true”leader a “moral”leader? If so by whose standards of “truth” and “ethics”.I think that philosophical debate can never be settled.

    Mandela , for example may or may not be (have been) a “true” leader but he certainly is (or was) an “effective” leader.However the same can be said for Hitler. I suppose you get my drift?

  • Miles Crisp

    The 17th Verse of the Tao Te Ching by Lao-tzu

    With the greatest leader above them,
    People barely know one exists.
    Next comes one whom they love and praise.
    Next comes one whom they fear.
    Next comes one whom they despise and defy.

    When a leader trusts no one,
    No one trusts him.

    The great leader speaks little.
    He never speaks carelessly.
    He works without self-interest
    and leaves no trace.
    When all is finished, the people say,
    “We did it ourselves.”

  • rity

    This is quite true and despite the excuses we may want to use to continue to remain at the bottom of the food chain as Africans, we should seek for visionary leadership. Without vission, we can not have direction. This applies to almost all of Africa by the way.

    @CeboNathi; When people state their position on matters, people like you quickly reduce such serious issues to black or white and people should leave…etc. All your retrogresive war chants does not address the issues. Mind you the challenges of South Africa is not unique to South Africa alone, therefore where Race is not an issue in the rest of Africa, people do not resort to chasing people of opposite view out of the continent. Africa belongs to all who live in it.

    I guess what makes a country a powerhouse is political stability, economic growth and general citizen satisfaction. Do you really see this attributes of a powerhouse in South Africa at this very moment in time? Right now the falcon no longer hears the falconer and things are falling apart rapidly. Just before you think I am another white enemy who should leave your land; no brother, I am as black as you can get, but I don’t have my toe stuck in my ass. take care CeboNathi

  • Chris Roux


    Instead of telling Peter Joffe to leave the country because what he said may be too painfully close to the truth about many high profile leaders, why not be more constructive and do a simple matrix excercise. List all the top South African leaders you know along the one axis and the leadership attributes Sam Bradley describes along the other and rate the leaders against each on a scale of 1-10. Then share your findings with the readers of Mail & Guardian for our edification.

    The world’s views of the remarkable dynamics of South Africa are indeed informed by positive achievemnets, but these are the collective achievements of the many socio economic sectors that make up our country. Within these are the types of leaders that fit such positive attributes and largely they are unsung and unacclaimed. They just go on doing what is best for this country and its future generations as good stewards should. Then there are the political leaders who more accurately fit Peter Joffe’s skeptical view which incidentally he has every right to without being told to give up his citizenship. That is what Mandela’s great vision and leadership gave to ALL South Africans.

  • CeboNathi

    The true measure of general citizen satisfaction is the ballot.The last election gave the present Government 62%.True I must admit my error of judgement in saying P Joffe must emigrate,for which I gracefully tender my apologies to him.On the whole if you are a regular participant in this column you will agree that there is a lot of anti S A sentiment from a particular sector of our South African society which only serves to fuel enmity between races and the call for dissatisfied people to do as they see fit. Mr. Harris is an example of someone fighting a lone battle against such forces.

  • Sam Bradley

    I really like Miles’ point about a quiet leader. It reminds me of Mr Mandela speaking about leading from behind, and allowing everyone to use their talents and ideas to forge the path ahead.

    It’s definitely not going to be easy. Todays leaders are in the public eye more than ever, with every move and word being analysed and dissected by millions of people. We also currently seeing a very noisy and public style of leadership being modelled by various leaders around the world.

    I think whatever our opinion on current state of affairs – and everyone seems to have an opinion – its important that we realise that everyone is in this together. I get really sad when people decided to leave SA, or when people are told to leave SA. It’s probably idealistic thinking, but if everyone pulled in the same direction we could pull ourselves out of 99% of our problems in a pretty short space of time.

    On a side note, the biggest challenge facing leaders today, and probably tomorrow, is how to reconcile people. The idea of SA as a Rainbow Nation is a great one, and its needed more than ever to unite all the races, ideas and beliefs.

  • Sipho

    How about a democratic view of leadership. Let’s accept that what you see as leadership material may be viewed by another person as an impostor.

  • taiwo n olashile

    This characteristic of leadership will be visible in a true leader in all circumstances.The leader of the generation should be able to uplift all of the speech and conversation of the people of his generation when it come to community development.