5 Traits Your Character Must Develop to be a Leader

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A protagonist must change in significant ways between the beginning and ending of a novel. Good writing follows this rule, otherwise, most of the books you read would bore you.  How the character changes is up to the writer.  The character can improve, become stronger, learn to stand on his own two feet.  She can turn bad, really bad, and hurt lots of people.

Often writers create characters who become leaders due to the circumstances (ie the conflict) they face. In order to develop them into effective leaders, we can look at the five best practices of a leader as identified by Jim Kousez and Barry Posner.  Based on extensive research focused around good leadership, Kousez and Posner revealed specific characteristics all effective leaders exhibit.

Non-writers, take note!
This information is useful in your daily lives, especially if you are in management or hope to be some day, so please keep reading.

Model the Way
Maybe no one notices your character in the beginning of the story, but, through their actions, people begin to emulate them.  Think Harry Potter.  He was a boy living under the stairwell, but with the help of some interesting circumstances, a curse, and precocious friends, he became the kid everyone was willing to follow, even if it meant punishment. He set the standards and his friends, and even many adults, followed his lead.

Inspire a Shared Vision
All leaders have a vision, a goal.  What is your character's vision?  To be an effective leader they need to share this vision in their thoughts, actions, and words, AND others need to be inspired by that same vision.  In each of the Harry Potter books, Harry had a vision for the story--stop Snape from stealing the Philosopher's Stone in the first book, and an overarching vision for the series--stop Voldemort from rising to power again.

Challenge the Process
Leaders gain followers because they recognize the problems with the status quo.  They instigate necessary change and lead others to accept and support that change. In most of the Harry Potter stories, Harry questions why the adults want to keep him from confronting Voldemort.  His refusal to steer clear of Voldemort gets him into a lot of trouble, but he manages to triumph, and eventually, even the adults recognize his leadership strengths.

Enable Others to Act
Leaders give their followers the tools they need to do the job.  In this case, we might want to look more closely at Hermione Granger.  Her depth of knowledge and research helped Harry achieve his greatness, but Harry exhibited this trait in many ways, too. In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the Ministry of Magic decides students shouldn't learn the defenses against the dark arts, so Harry accepts the responsibility of teaching Hogwarts' students.  This secret training allows the students to defend Hogwarts, its students, and even Harry as the battle continues against Voldemort.

Encourage the Heart
If you're creating an evil leader, you may doubt your ability to demonstrate this one, but let's look at Voldemort for a moment.  He encouraged his followers by offering them greatness, and in many cases, giving them freedom from Azkaban. He gave them acceptance in a world where they had been reviled. Yes, he performed many acts that discouraged the heart, and that is how he loses followers.

On the other hand, good leaders, like Harry, give others something to fight for.  He expresses his appreciation for their efforts time and again. The most important part of encouraging the heart is the thank you, the pat on the back, the appreciation for a task, no matter how big or small, done well.

So, there you have it--five traits your characters should develop if they are to become leaders:

  • Model the Way
  • Inspire a Shared Vision
  • Challenge the Process
  • Enable Others to Act
  • Encourage the Heart

How will you use these in your story craft?

Don't forget to check out Kousez and Posner's website for more information!


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