What makes a leader?

What makes a leader?

I’ll answer the question with a list of truths about leadership presented by General Manager Mr. Richard Carruth at ON Semiconductor seminar I took part in yesterday. Inspirational talk!

  1. You Make a Difference
  2. Credibility Is the Foundation of Leadership
  3. Values Drive Commitment
  4. Focusing on the Future Sets Leaders Apart
  5. You Can’t Do It Alone
  6. Trust Rules
  7. Challenge Is the Crucible of Greatness
  8. You Either Lead by Example or You Don’t Lead at All
  9. The Best Leaders Are the Best Learners
  10. Leadership Is an Affair of the Heart

In truth, most the list can be summed up in one word: “Initiative”

“Initiative” encompasses a number of ideas:

  1. By definition, it is about taking the first action [8] with the belief that you, yourself, can make a difference [1].
  2. Taking an initiative, in itself, is a challenge to the status quo [7].
  3. What came before “Initiative” is the courage to dream of a better future [4].
  4. And what came before the dream is a strong personal drive. The love and desire to make something you love better. Therefore, it is an affair of the heart [10].
  5. But dreaming is never about blind courage. As the forerunner, the one who took the initiative, you cannot blame anyone but yourself. Therefore, taking responsibility [2] comes within the same package. While this is not the best fit for the truth but being responsible earns a leader credibility.
  6. Being responsible for your own action, you must never stop learning [9]. You must be able to evaluate what is feasible and what is not. Besides, how could one set an exemplary action if he did not know what he was doing?

Initiative and its root make up half of leadership. They are more than capable of putting you into leadership positions. Nevertheless, these are not enough to keep you in that seat forever.

If initiative is about the individual self of a leader, the project(s) that comes after the initiative differentiates good leadership and good contribution. This is where the rest of the truths come into play:

Evaluation of what is feasible and what is not must take into account of the team and their capability [5]. Only this allows the scope of an initiative to expand into a team project: a prerequisite to have a leader in the first place!

Afterwards, the ability to sustain the project relies on the ability to keep the team together. A dream, a drive and a plan fuel initiatives. The fuels burn out and the initiative fails without human affairs management. You need trust amongst your team [6].

But trust is incredibly hard-earned.

There is no real advice for gaining trusts, the method varies from one team to another. Only with social experience and time can you become trustworthy. However, you can start off with having a mutual vision and mutual drive with your team in the first place [3].

And making people feel appreciated [10] (again) and relying more on your team members [5] (this is getting repetitive). The scope doesn’t matter as long as these three elements of fuel hold true throughout the project.


Leadership can be described as an extension of “Initiative”, with a good dab of understanding of human affairs. These are talents one can be born with or acquired via experience.

More on personal drive

Self-preservation is the strongest drive behind all humans’ actions. Robert Wright in his TED Talk pointed out: even the most selfless reasons can be traced back to a more selfish cause. Arguably, both are variants of the same genetic self-preservation.

Personally, I believe the most important factor in the decision to take an initiative (and be a leader) or not should always be your own benefit. The most committed contributors are the ones who have the most intimate gain tied to the success of the project. The good for one person does not necessarily mean the bad for all others. After all, life is not a zero-sum game.

Now why shouldn’t personal gain be a community’s drive, I wonder?
(A shout-out to wiki wars and Wikia)

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