The opinions of two researchers from the IMD Business School in Lausanne.

“True leaders are happy warriors who are not afraid of pressure and who know how to distill enthusiasm.”

Preston Bottger, Professor of Leadership and General Management at IMD

Five hundred years ago, Machiavelli identified three types of people: those who understand things on their own, those who need to be explained to them and those who do not, even with explanations. I believe that these observations are still valid: leaders certainly belong to the first category.

Good leaders have several things in common: an appetite for responsibility; a willingness to invest time and effort in fulfilling their mission; an ability to mobilize energies; and great intellectual and emotional flexibility. Without entering into the eternal debate about the innate and the acquired, let us limit ourselves to noting that some people exercise these qualities with greater ease. According to child psychologists, a strong baby is more likely to become an adult with high physical energy. The same goes for a child who can calm down when he is angry. All these are assets that are conducive to leadership. As a professor, I also note that not all my students have the same mental flexibility provisions. However, a good leader must be able to analyze a problem from all angles and put himself in the shoes of his employees.

But leadership is not just about management. In these times of fierce competition, a true leader is recognized for his ability to cope with pressure. Where others give up, he rolls up his sleeves and distils enthusiasm. He is what I call a “happy warrior”. And we need it badly in this time of crisis.

“There are as many profiles as there are management contexts. Leadership can be exercised with different qualities.”

Maury Peiperl, Professor of Leadership and Change Strategy at IMD

A leader’s mission is to enable his or her employees to learn continuously and to help them reach their full potential. To achieve this objective, there is no need to have specific character traits. I absolutely reject the idea that leaders share a typical personality. There are as many profiles as there are management contexts. A CFO, plant manager and international executive can combine very different skills and qualities and each show themselves to be excellent leaders in their field of expertise.

In social psychology, we call “fundamental error of attribution” this distortion which consists, when analysing a phenomenon, in giving much more attention to the personality of an individual than to the situation in which he finds himself. The result: as soon as things go wrong, heads are blown off. While the crux of the problem often lies in a combination of factors including corporate culture, legislation, relationships with subcontractors or simply the economic situation… By taking a person out of his or her context, we miss the opportunity to understand him or her.

However, there is one thing that real leaders have in common: whether they are in top management or middle management positions, they must demonstrate high emotional intelligence, i.e. an ability to understand the motivations and capabilities of their teams, in order to succeed. The good news is that this empathy can be acquired. As long as you are open, patient and attentive.