Develop the Key Characteristics of a Leader

“Develop the Key Characteristics of a Leader” written by Guest Contributor.

I’ve always had a fascination for the American Civil War.

The American Civil War

Maybe because, for me, the American Civil War was the single largest event in the history of the United States. I’ve visited several of the well-preserved battlefields.

Or maybe because there’s something both eerie and fascinating about brother fighting brother (literally at times).

Casualties were high, most sources agree that the total number killed was between 640,000 and 700,000.

This one war fought between Americans resulted in a loss of human life that exceeded that of any country as a percentage of their population during the First World War.

What I think draws me to this historical event more than anything are the stories about the people; the individual characters and how they reacted in a time that “tested men’s souls.”

There are so many famous historical figures like Ulysses S. Grant and Tecumseh Sherman who were exceptional in this time in spite of a pre-war career wrought with business failures and bouts of alcohol abuse, and psychological demons.

In the book “Rebel Yell” by S.C. Gwynne –  an account of how American Civil War general, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, became a great and tragic American hero.

The Key Characteristics of a Leader like Thomas Jackson

We find that Jackson was also not your typical war hero. The key to his success was not talent or charisma,  but the ability to overcome adversity, not only in battle, but in his regular life as well.

Develop the Key Characteristics of a Leader

He was not born with talent and skills that brought him to success and fame. It was with sheer will, faith in god and determination he overcame his weaknesses.

His Struggles

Before the war, he was well educated and had graduated from West Point Military Academy and went on to become a physics teacher at the prestigious Virginia Military Institute, but was a mediocre teacher and was ridiculed and teased mercilessly by his students to the point of endangering his life.

There are also accounts of his first attempt at public speaking at a party at Washington College, When the students invited Jackson to speak he was nervous and gave a haltering embarrassed speech that the town paper described as the nervous speech of Major Jackson, coarsely and unfeelingly putting the word “nervous” in italics.

All of this only made him more determined to overcome these obstacles.

He joined the Franklin Debating Society where he he succeeded in making an impressive, but never an eloquent, speaker.

He was the deacon of his church and  on one occasion he was called upon to pray in public. He did such a terrible job he wasn’t asked again.

He replied that it was a cross to him to pray in public, but that he had made up his mind to bear it, and did not wish to be excused.

Overcoming His Struggles

He persevered, and became very fluent and easy in public prayer.

He had a determination which he had made early in life to conquer every physical, mental, and moral weakness of his nature.

In the first battle of Bull Run where in a show of persistence and bravery, he changed the course of the battle by rallying  his outnumbered men to charge against The Union Army, giving him his famous nickname “Stonewall.”

In every area of his life he was determined to succeed, and his mindset and iron will prevailed.

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What To Look for In a Leader

What can we learn about his character?

Calmness Under Pressure

When he was a professor at The Virginia Military Institute he was teased and harassed and made fun of even to the point of putting his life in danger. Once a cadet dropped a brick from a third-story barracks window that barely missed Jackson. Jackson, striding forward as he always did and looking neither left nor right, took no notice of it, though as D. H. Hill said, “his escape was almost miraculous.” The perpetrator was never caught. When asked later why he did not try to find out who had done it, Jackson replied, “The truth is, I do not want to know that we have such a coward in the corps of cadets.”  He always responded with resolute calmness.

Instead of reacting he responded  on his own terms. He was not at the mercy of his circumstances.

The choice presents itself to us all the time, whether its someone nagging us, or someone being rude, our spouse not being kind enough, and so on. There will always be external events that bother us, but if we learn to respond and not just react, we can be an example to others.

He Kept his Body Under Control

He would not let any appetite control him or any weakness overcome him.

He refused to smoke or drink in a time when the health risks were not as well known. He would go all winter without a coat in the mountains of Virginia,  saying he”did not wish to give way to cold.”

This self-denial and self-control explain his wonderful success.

He Had Conquered Himself

By conquering himself he was made fit to be a conqueror. In Peter Drucker’s book, “The Effective Executive,” he says that every time you meet a person with great strengths, you are also meeting someone with great weaknesses.

Self-indulgence, in the form of lack of self-control or undisciplined living will weaken you. It can be the way you spend money. It can be sex. It can be food. It can be alcohol. It can be your emotions. It can be the way you manage your time. Anything that’s left out of control will weaken your life.

He Thought Outside the Box

When he was a professor he did not teach in the typical style.  His classroom at VMI was unconventional. He would have the students recite from the text book, which he had memorized, and his class was agonizingly difficult because of it.  And in the first battle of Bull Run his battle tactic was counter intuitive as well but pivotal in winning.

Imagine If They Hadn’t Stepped Up

What if he and so many historical figures hadn’t stepped outside the box to bring their own unique influence to the world?

What if all of history had never been touched by the bravery and radical choices of those who opened up their minds to the possibilities of new and different things?

You Can Develop the Key Characteristics of a Leader

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your contribution, your uniqueness, is not important enough to pursue. For every historic figure, for every hero,  there are hundreds of thousands who made their own contribution that, while it significantly impacted our society, we will never know by name.

Fame is not the point. The point is to live your own life to its fullest potential and settle for nothing less. If everyone did this, I believe our world would be radically different.

Facing Adversity

We all face adversity in one way or another and thank goodness for adversity!

Develop the Key Characteristics of a Leader

Learning to deal with and overcoming adversity is what makes us who we are.

In the battle field of life every challenge and every difficulty we successfully overcome serves to strengthen our will, confidence and ability to conquer future obstacles.

We may not be called upon to be historical figures, but we are each called upon to make our unique mark upon the world. We must look within ourselves and decide to be the best possible you. And when you respond positively and constructively to YOUR biggest challenges, the qualities of strength, courage, character and perseverance emerge from deep inside of you when you need it the most.


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Article:  Develop the Key Characteristics of a Leader

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