Leadership is partly a confidence trick, and those who practice it cannot afford to be too predictable. Some have alternated ruthlessness with generosity (this was one of Caesar’s trademarks). Others have appeared at times to be listless and drifting, only to spring suddenly to life (this was Stanley Baldwin’s style).
Democratic leaders have the difficult task of both guiding the people and seeming to respond to the popular will. Autocrats are obviously freer to exercise leadership, but among them the most successful have been aware of the need to be loved and admired, as well as feared. Just as many of the best democratic leaders have been natural autocrats, restrained only by conscience and realism. The essential qualities of a good leader are much the same, whatever the environment.
Of all the qualities needed for leadership, only one is indispensable – courage. Without it, all the others are more or less useless. Courage has been shown by all who we recognize as true leaders, from Alexander The Great to Margaret Thatcher. A leader must have the ability to take hard decisions and calculated risks. This rule applies at all levels and in all situations – in school, factory, boardroom or sporting arena, no less than on the battlefield or in the council chamber.
Leaders have to give courage to others while creating the illusion that they know exactly what they are doing. In Shaw’s “Caesar and Cleopatra” when one of Caesar’s officers says something intended to lift his spirits, he replies witheringly: “Do you presume to encourage me?”
Shaw knew what leadership was about ….