Volume 3, Issue 1 / 2007

On Impassioned Leadership: A Comparison Between Leaders from Divergent Walks of Life

Joan F. Marques
Woodbury University


This paper discusses team-based findings collected from leadership courses in higher education and pertaining to leaders from various disciplines, time frames, and backgrounds. Biographies of these leaders were reviewed, after which students listed the positive and negative traits of each leader. Subsequently, the author of this paper applied the phenomenological approach in order to find common themes among these remarkable individuals and draw an overall conclusion. Some similar qualities detected were confidence, hard work, risk taking, and communication skills. Yet, the greatest common factor among these leaders was the passion they displayed toward realizing their purpose. This passion was not only the core of their drive but also the overarching quality in achieving their purpose. The greatest difference among these leaders was found in the goals they set out to achieve with their skills.


As part of the structure in a course titled “Leadership Theory and Practice,” performed at a Los Angeles based university during several semesters in 2004, 2005, and 2006, a number of world-renowned leaders were reviewed. The course instructor, who is also the author of this paper, provided the students with a series of biographical documentaries (A&E biographies) of various leaders. The choice in the 2004 classes fell on Fidel Castro, Jesus Christ, and Mahatma Gandhi, while the 2005 and 2006 courses selected Fidel Castro; Mother Theresa; Martin Luther King, Jr.; and Al Capone.

Assessment of these leaders was based on their leadership skills, not on whom or what they represented. The intention was not to praise or condemn these people but to review their leadership styles, characteristics, and the determinants that occurred during their rise to prominence. Specific concentration areas for each of these individuals were the following:

  1. What relationship could be found between the leader, the followers, and the situation?
  2. What were this leader’s perceived positive qualities?
  3. What were this leader’s perceived negative qualities?
  4. What outstanding traits could be detected within this leader?

In this paper, the mentioned leaders first are evaluated individually with a review of their positive and negative leadership traits, as listed by the course participants after reviewing the documentaries. Subsequently, the traits of these leaders are compared, in order to bring similarities and contradictions to the surface. Finally, a list is presented of traits that can be perceived as directions on the road to success, based on the presence of these traits among the leaders reviewed.


The purpose of studying these leaders was to detect a set of common factors among them in order to create a profile of important qualities needed in leadership. This, then, should also be considered the contribution of this study to leadership theory and practice.

The choice of these particular leaders was based on the following factors: (a) they were all familiar to the students in some way; (b) they had acquired world renown, whether positively or negatively; (c) these leaders harbor a timeless celebrity, as they remain well known in society even though some of them have long passed away; and (d) the availability of video material about these leaders in local libraries.

Leadership Theories Investigated

When reviewing the findings from this study, an interesting combination of leadership theories surfaced. The oldest theory, the leadership trait paradigm, was most prominent in this study, which will become clear to the reader throughout this paper. In their explanation of the trait theory of leadership, House and Aditya (1997) asserted, “A large number of personal characteristics [are] investigated such as gender, height, physical energy and appearance as well as psychological traits and motives such as authoritarianism, intelligence, need for achievement, and need for power” (p. 410). Because the leaders in this study are all renowned individuals, the physical aspects were left out of scope, but the psychological traits and motives received broad attention. The charisma theory, an element of the trait theory, is prominently present in this study. “Charismatic leaders are exceptionally self-confident, are strongly motivated to attain and assert influence, and have strong conviction in the moral correctness of their beliefs” (House & Aditya, p. 416).

The leader behavior paradigm also surfaces in this study, as various acts of the selected leaders were reviewed and compared. “The initial guiding assumption of the behavioral paradigm [is] that there are some universally effective leader behaviors” (House & Aditya, 1997, p. 421).

As the situation and the followers were also considered in this study, starting with point 1 in the concentration areas (what relationship could be found between the leader, the followers, and the situation?), it can be confirmed that situational leadership theories also served as contributing factors in the formulation of the findings, although not as profusely as trait and behavior approaches. Northouse (2004) asserted, “The basic premise of the [situational] theory is that different situations demand different kinds of leadership” (p. 87). The influence of situational theories is illustrated in this paper when presenting behaviors such as empathy and communication skills and is explicitly reviewed in the conclusive section of this paper.

A recurring leadership style in this paper is the transformational leadership style which, according to Northouse (2004), is “one of the current approaches to leadership that has been the focus of much research since the early 1980s” (p. 169). Northouse explained, “Transformational leadership is a process that changes and transforms individuals. It is concerned with emotions, values, ethics, standards, and long-term goals, and includes assessing followers’ motives, satisfying their needs, and treating them as full human beings” (p. 169). Northouse continued, “Transformational leadership involves an exceptional form of influence that moves followers to accomplish more than what is usually expected of them. It is a process that often incorporates charismatic and visionary leadership” (p. 169). As an extension to the transformational leadership style, inspirational and motivational leadership are also mentioned in this paper. Several authors (House & Aditya, 1997; Ilies, Judge, & Wagner, 2006) have considered motivational leadership an aspect of charismatic and transformational leadership.

Leadership Focus of This Paper

The theoretical focus of this paper is based on the assumption that leaders are made when individuals work toward developing a certain set of qualities and behaviors and consider the circumstances and followers at hand. As an extension to this assumption, the paper attempts to demonstrate that no single theory should be considered when reviewing leadership; different theories come into play in the development of a comprehensive picture of appropriate leadership. All theories have demonstrated their advantages and disadvantages over time, and it would be deficient to focus on just one theory when studying a phenomenon as timeless and prominent as leadership.

New Insights to be Gained From This Paper

This study does not only demonstrate that multiple theories need to be taken into consideration when one wants to draw useful conclusions about leadership, but it also reveals the important fact that leaders can utilize their skills, traits, and behaviors in positive and negative ways with equal success. The paper further illuminates that leadership requires a high level of adaptability or flexibility from the leader, which demonstrates that leaders should also be aware of the fact that it would be inadequate to classify their leadership style within merely one theory.

Although not extensively, the paper also mentions a not earlier explored fact about a possible negative relationship between leadership and family connectedness, which may be an interesting topic for future research.


To execute this study, the author of this paper used the phenomenological approach, which is qualitative in nature. “A phenomenological study describes the meaning of the lived experiences for several individuals about a concept or the phenomenon” (Creswell, 1998, p. 51). The concept or phenomenon in this study was leadership. Students were asked to provide extensive answers to a set of questions, geared toward the four focus points listed earlier. The author subsequently applied a process of horizonalization in order to eliminate redundancies. “The original protocols are divided into statements or horizonalization. Then, the units are transformed into clusters of meanings expressed in psychological and phenomenological concepts” (Creswell, pp. 54-55). This process is also known as phenomenological reduction. The author then clustered the answers into themes and, afterward, applied textural and structural description in order to compile the findings as they are presented in this paper. Figure 1 represents the chronological order of execution of this study.

Figure 1: Impassioned leadership study model.

Some World-Renowned Leaders: An Overview

Fidel Castro

Born and raised in an upper-middle class environment, Fidel Castro Ruz was not exactly the poor sufferer one would possibly expect. According to A&E’s Fidel Castro: El Comandante (Cascio, Zeff, & Goldberg, 1996), Castro enjoyed a decent education and moved around in fairly upscale circles while growing up. Yet, he soon became aware of the snobbishness among several of his fellow students when they excluded him from their glamorous society events. This experience was one of the main instigators of Castro’s aversion to oppression of the underprivileged by the affluent (Cascio, Zeff, & Goldberg, 1996).

Castro demonstrated some important leadership traits from early childhood on such as determination and a great level of self-confidence. He had an enormous drive, developed an imposing posture, and displayed resilience whenever his missions failed. He just got up, regained his composure, improved his strategy, and tried again.

When the 1952 elections in which he had planned to campaign for a parliamentary seat were cancelled due to a coup d’etat led by Fulgencio Batista, Castro’s mind was set: he would do whatever it took to become Cuba’s future leader. After a failed initial attempt to overthrow the government and a consequential prison term, Castro started collecting a team of loyalists around him. He equally participated in their stern guerilla training and, with that, created an atmosphere of respect, understanding, and empathy between himself and his allies (Cascio, Zeff, & Goldberg, 1996).

A closer look at the situation around the time of Castro’s establishment as Cuba’s leader in 1959 illustrates that Batista’s regime had grown increasingly unpopular among the Cuban people and that he, Batista, had lost the support he initially experienced from the United States (Cascio, Zeff, & Goldberg, 1996). The discontent among the Cuban people created a fertile climate for Castro to seize power as a hero. His empathetic approach toward the downtrodden soon made him an icon in his country. Castro established close relations with the Soviet Union, nationalized the local industry, imprisoned or executed opponents, and established a climate of lasting tension with the United States.

What can be derived from an analysis of Castro as a leader? There was a clear and intense relationship between Castro, his followers, and the situation at the time he took leadership. The contemporaneous disgruntlement of the Cuban people toward the government made it easier for Castro to step into power as a liberator. Castro exhibited a transformational leadership style as he was able to influence his followers’ values, ethics, standards and long-term goals at a deep emotional level. According to Hughes, Ginnett, and Curphy (2002), “Transformational leaders articulate the problems in the current system and have a compelling vision of what a new society or organization could be” (p. 402). As described in Fidel Castro: El Comandante (Cascio, Zeff, & Goldberg, 1996), Castro was able to influence his followers to accomplish more than what was normally expected of them. He intensely participated in the process of changing Cuba’s political climate, not from a distance but as a member of the guerilla troops who lived among the poor people in Cuba’s inland and who ultimately instigated the change. Fidel Castro: El Comandante (Cascio, Zeff, & Goldberg) illustrated how he established close relationships with inhabitants of the interior, taking care of their needs, and winning their support through his message and passion. Whether perceived in a positive or negative light, Castro ultimately changed Cuba’s entire social and economic structure. Even some contemporary sources have attested to Castro’s constructive impact on Cuba. Erikson (2004), for instance, claimed that even Washington thinks that Cuba’s influence in Latin America is on the rise, thanks to Castro’s leadership. Sweig (2007) added that Cuba is far from democracy, “but it is a functioning country with highly opinionated citizens where locally elected officials (albeit all from one party) worry about issues such as garbage collection, public transportation, employment, education, health care, and safety” (p. 39). Sweig continued that despite increasing corruption, “Cuban institutions are staffed by an educated civil service, battle-tested military officers, a capable diplomatic corps, and a skilled work force. Cuban citizens are highly literate, cosmopolitan, endlessly entrepreneurial, and by global standards quite healthy” (p. 39).

Castro’s most listed positive and negative qualities by the leadership students after reviewing Fidel Castro: El Comandante (Cascio, Zeff, & Goldberg, 1996) are listed in Table 1. Some traits of Castro that stand out are (a) his posture and looks which made him an impressive figure; (b) his charisma and charm, his influence exceeding the boundaries of his physical presence; and (c) his great team-building skills.
Although the listed positive qualities in Castro outnumbered the negative ones, one should consider the strength, manifestation, and impact of each quality or skill on all stakeholders. Fidel Castro remains an intriguing person to analyze. Mayer (2001) commented that the American public, as of today, has mixed feelings about Castro, to almost the same extent as they did in the 1960s. Castro tries to keep his private life concealed from the ever-spying eyes of eager journalists. Above all, he has managed to establish a legacy. Whether liked or disliked, loved or hated, accepted or condemned, his name is world-renowned.

Table 1: Fidel Castro’s Most Listed Positive and Negative Qualities

Positive qualities

Negative qualities

Motivating: provided especially lower class Cubans with a sense of self-esteem.

Over confident: sense of superiority in knowledge.

Independent: still able to manage in spite of heavy embargos.

Mismanaging: clung to a failed ideology.

Determined: focused on becoming Cuba’s leader.

Stubborn: practicing “Fidelism” in spite of everything. Even today, he leads with an “iron fist” (Erikson, 2004, p. 32).

Resilient: continuous reemergence after defeat and imprisonment.

Excessively sensitive: too rigid and inflexible, driving away even initial advocates.

Courageous: Remained true to his values, regardless of what others thought, said, or did.

Authoritarian: unable to accept change during the first 30 years of his leadership.

Confident: strong believe in self and visions.

Coercive: Dissidents were punished.

Communicative: team building in times of action.




Inspirational: Participated in action when and where needed.

Empathetic: established free medical treatment and education for the poor.

Jesus Christ

According to practically all sources that report about Jesus Christ, this extraordinary man was from humble beginnings. Not that this was an unknown factor, as the story of Christ’s birth is one of the most famous worldwide. However, the authorities interviewed in the A&E biographical documentary Jesus: His Life (Talley, 2005) reviewed for this particular leadership analysis stated that, unlike in the famous Christmas story, Jesus was probably born in Nazareth, the hometown of his parents, Josef and Maria. The sources claimed that Jesus was presumably raised to become a carpenter like his father. He was Josef and Maria’s oldest but not only child. He had several siblings, at least 3 brothers and a few sisters, according to various scholars interviewed in the documentary (Talley).

Talley’s (2005) documentary Jesus: His Life further reported that little is known about the first half of Jesus’ life, except for the incident in the synagogue at age 12 when he impressed the elders with his intellect. In general, most of the sources assumed that Jesus led an ordinary life as a member of an ordinary Jewish family. The sources also asserted that he may have had some exposure to life outside his hometown at various occasions. These encounters may have planted the seed for his roaming years later.

When reviewing the life of Jesus Christ, the term inspirational leadership comes to mind. “Inspirational leaders instill an intrinsic drive that is fueled by a higher purpose, a sense of mission, and a commitment to a vast array of possibilities” (Kerfoot, 2001, p. 242). Prusak and Cohen (2001) confirmed, “It’s vital to give people a common sense of purpose, which is a matter of good strategic communication and inspirational leadership” (p. 92). Jesus’ first experience with inspirational leadership may have been his confrontation with John the Baptist in the Jordan. If perceived from a leadership perspective, we can conclude that John the Baptist became Jesus’ mentor, igniting within him the impetus to become a transformational and motivational leader. As mentioned earlier in this paper, several authors (House & Aditya, 1997; Ilies et al., 2006) have considered motivational leadership an aspect of charismatic and transformational leadership. Whether as a follower of John or individually, Jesus apparently interacted with a multitude of people after his encounter with John the Baptist. However, his whereabouts in this timeframe are mainly based on speculations. According to Jesus: His Life (Talley, 2005), when Jesus returned to his hometown, Nazareth, his fellow citizens did not appreciate the change he had undergone and even felt threatened by the stranger he had become in their eyes. As usually happens with people who outgrow the environment in which they were raised, Jesus was soon chased out of his hometown. Yet, with his charisma and his powerful message, he soon collected followers on his journeys through other cities. This is where he made his name and fame. He held speeches in synagogues; was widely praised for his eloquence, wisdom, and healing powers; and continued to gather crowds of devotees everywhere he went.

One can question whether the miracles that Jesus performed during his lifetime, such as changing water into wine, walking on water, and resurrecting the deceased, were acts of mass hypnosis, mass suggestion, or real miracles, but his popularity was undisputable. No wonder that he became a clear and present danger in the eyes of the assigned contemporaneous leaders. Jesus’ case, therefore, can be seen as an illustration of citizen (unofficial) leadership versus assigned (official) leadership. Couto (1995) explained that citizen leaders “facilitate organized action to improve conditions of people in low-income communities and to address other basic needs of society at the local level” (p. 12). Couto further stated, “Citizen leaders usually do not choose leadership. They do not even seek it” (p. 13). “Citizen leaders are not showered with traditional forms of recognition” (Couto, p. 15). Mabey (1995) added, “Action marks the citizen leader. Knowing is insufficient without action” (p. 316). Piovanelli (2005) portrayed Jesus “in his prophet-like status” (p. 395) as a definite charismatic character in his time. And, as his influence among the masses grew, so did the fear of King Herod for being overruled by this strange inspirational figure.

What can be derived from Jesus as a leader? The relationship between Jesus and his followers was one of inspiration. Most of his admirers were primarily attracted to him as a result of the stories of his supernatural powers, and they wanted to experience these powers, either for themselves or for their less fortunate loved ones. Once Jesus’ name was established through word of mouth, the crowd kept on swelling like fans around a celebrity. Jesus also exhibited a transformational leadership style; he influenced the lives of many of his followers. In addition, Sendjaya and Sarros (2002) attributed strong servant leadership qualities to Jesus in regard to his approach toward followers. “Servant leadership emphasizes that leaders should be attentive to the concerns of their followers and empathize with them” (Northouse, 2004, p. 309)

Jesus’ most listed positive and negative qualities by the leadership students after reviewing Talley’s (2005) documentary are listed in Table 2. Some of Jesus’ outstanding traits were (a) his physical flexibility which enabled him to adapt to various difficult situations such as fasting in the wilderness for a fair amount of weeks; (b) his obvious energy considering that traveling in those days mainly happened by foot or donkey; and (c) his strong will and great self-perception, meaning Jesus’ ability to rise above the mediocrity of an average life in an average town to become one of the greatest and most influential leaders of all time.

The question remains whether Jesus, had he not taken the risk of being assassinated, would have also risen to the immortality that he now enjoys. Of course, his appearances after his death remain inexplicable. But, like so many other leaders after him, his legacy definitely skyrocketed after his passing.

Table 2: Jesus Christ’s Most Listed Positive and Negative Qualities

Positive qualities

Negative qualities

Passionate about his message: advocated nonviolence, respect, and empathy, among other values.

Over emotional: when he perceived injustice, he could get outraged.

Self-confidence: influenced others starting at a young age, Claimed to be the only way to God.

Stubborn: continued his mission at even the highest price. Jesus drove his risk predilection to the point of no return.

Inspiring and charismatic: gained followers wherever he went.

Over confident: was uninhibited when it came to intellectual encounters.

Intelligent: was capable of formulating answers that could be interpreted in multiple ways.

Unwilling to compromise: was not receptive to any other vision than his own.

Determined and courageous: even when he realized the immense risk of his mission, he continued it.




Influential: changed the lives and perspectives of many. Jesus’ legacy grew immensely after his death, even though he was often ridiculed during his life.

Faithful: believed that everything happens as it is written, so it is no use to fight against it.

Mahatma Gandhi

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born in 1869 in Porbandar in the region of Bombay (Du Toit, 1996). He has often been described as the spiritual and political leader of India who led the struggle for India’s independence from the British Empire. Gandhi studied law in London. In 1893, he went to South Africa where he spent 20 years opposing discriminatory legislation against Indians (Kleinedler, Pickett, et al., 2005). In 1914, Gandhi moved back to India after successfully organizing a civil disobedience movement against the South African government (Bates, 1998). He became the leader of the Indian National Congress, advocating a policy of nonviolent noncooperation to achieve independence (A&E Television Networks, 2004a). In his strife for equality amongst all Indians, he started a civil disobedience campaign which led to his incarceration on the count of conspiracy. After his release from prison in 1933, Gandhi turned his attention to the plight of the Untouchables (lower orders in India), and he began to organize his “Quit India” movement with the onset of the Second World War (Bates). After India’s independence in 1947, he tried to stop the Hindu–Muslim conflict in Bengal which led to his assassination in Delhi by Nathuram Godse, a Hindu fanatic (A&E Television Networks, 2004a).

Gandhi is most famous for his satyagraha ideology which entailed a nonviolent strategy of leading. Satyagraha is the instrument of silent and nonviolent protest against certain unjust overt or covert actions by the authority (Ghosh, 2002). He reached his goals in South Africa and India without violence but with iron determination. Mohandas Gandhi was an advocate of (a) independence for India from Great Britain, (b) Hindu–Muslim unity, and (c) the end of Untouchability. As a preacher and practitioner of nonviolence, best described as passive resistance through soul force instead of active resistance through physical force, Gandhi became world famous and earned the name of Mahatma which is Sanskrit for great soul.

In his satyagraha teachings, Gandhi explained that the nonviolence practice yields to an aggressor but does not cooperate. This strategy assumes that even the cruelest opponent will ultimately melt by the sight of his cruelty. Rightfully, Blake (2005) pointed out the limited applicability of this strategy by concluding, “Satyagraha requires an opponent with a moral conscience (the British in India, for example); it will not work against unprincipled totalitarian regimes—Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Russia” (p. 225). Gandhi was described further as “a profound visionary looking for solutions to problems faced by mankind all over the world” (Saha, 1997, p. 219) and as “a practical politician who tried to translate many of his visions into action” (Saha, p. 219).

What can be derived from Gandhi as a leader? There was an indisputable relationship between Gandhi, his followers, and the situation in South Africa and India at the time he took on his leadership position. The oppression of Indian workers and the consequential dissatisfaction of the Indian people made it easier for Gandhi to become the people’s representative. Gandhi exhibited transformational leadership by arousing and elevating the “hopes and demands of millions of Indians . . . whose life and personality were enhanced in the process” (Burns, 1995, p. 101).

Gandhi’s most listed positive and negative qualities by the leadership students after reviewing the A&E documentary Gandhi: Pilgrim of Peace (Cascio, Cambou, Cox, Morowitz, & Martin, 2000) are listed in Table 3. Some of Gandhi’s outstanding traits were (a) his authentic appearance, almost always half-naked, yet fierce, and the epitome of humility and frugality; (b) his charisma and knowledge, with an influence transcending the ages, becoming greater and gaining more respect and followers after his death; and (c) his great motivational skills.

Like most of the leaders reviewed, Gandhi’s positive traits outnumbered his negative ones. Yet, the magnitude of the damage done with those negative qualities toward those closest to him should not be underestimated. Apparently, Gandhi was a man who meticulously cultivated the establishment of a great legacy yet did not care too much about those toward whom he should have demonstrated ultimate respect. “Charity begins at home” was, according to the examples of Gandhi’s negative traits, not a very popular statement in the Gandhi household. Nevertheless, Gandhi remains a highly and widely revered individual, increasingly growing in his fame and legacy as time progresses.

Table 3: Mohandas Gandhi’s Most Listed Positive and Negative Qualities

Positive qualities

Negative qualities

Empathetic: related to the perspective of the oppressed.

Domestically violent: “neglected and even humiliated Kasturba [his wife] most of his life and only after her death realized she was ‘the warp and woof of my life’” (McGeary, 1999, ¶ 11).

Perseverant: was imprisoned, neglected, and belittled many times by the British government.

Disrespectful toward those closest to him: “spent years testing his self-discipline by sleeping beside young women. He evidently cared little about any psychological damage to the women involved” (McGeary, ¶ 11).

Strategic: his strategy of satyagraha, nonviolence, made him a global icon long after his death.

Authoritarian toward those closest to him: “expected his four sons to be as self-denying as he was” (McGeary, ¶ 11).

Courageous: dared to place his life on the line for his purpose.

Inflexible: had a discomfort with “Western ways, industrialism and material pleasures” (McGeary, ¶ 10), “never stopped calling for a nation that would turn its back on technology to prosper through village self-sufficiency, but not even the Mahatma could hold back progress” (McGeary, ¶ 10).

Belief in his purpose: nothing could keep him from realizing his purpose, not even multiple assassination attempts.






Persuasive: he could negotiate very well with strong opponents.

Intelligent: Gandhi’s legal background helped him develop great strategies without crossing legal boundaries.

Resilient: Gandhi emerged several times after being captured or defeated.

Inspirational: participated in action when and where needed.

Mother Teresa

“Today, perhaps no figure has come to symbolize undiluted goodness, piety, and compassion more than the small, elderly Albanian nun Agnes Bojaxhiu—known to millions as Mother Teresa” (Fosl, 1999, p. 115). Besides being born in Kosovo in 1910, not much is known about Mother Teresa’s early life. At the age of 12, through Jesuit missionaries, she learned about the desperately poor in India and never forgot. Six years later, she joined the convent and, now named Sister Teresa, went to India (McCormack, 1999). At the age of 18, she entered the Sisters of Loreto’s convent in Ireland as a novice. The Sisters of Loreto, a teaching order, sent her to Bengal in 1929 (Mukherjee, 1999). After taking her vows, Sister Teresa taught in a convent school in Darjeeling in West Bengal for a short period (Stiehm, 2006). She took her final vows and became a professed nun in 1937 (Stiehm). In the 1940s, she received what she referred to as a “call within a call” (Stiehm, p. 86) and requested to work alone. Stiehm explained that Mother Teresa left her convent in 1948 and began teaching in the slums. 

The slums soon made her realize that she needed at least some minimal medical training, so she obtained that in Paris. She subsequently opened some classrooms for destitute children in Calcutta and was gradually joined by other nuns, resulting in her House for the Dying which opened in 1952 (A&E Television Networks, 2004c). In October 1950, she received Vatican permission to start her own order. “In some mysterious way, Mother Teresa received what she had prayed for. Without that change, there would have been no possibility of gathering workers around her in a religious order. The Missionaries of Charity would never have come into being” (Egan, 1997, p. MT2).

The mission’s order was best captured in Mother Teresa’s speech when she was awarded the 1979 Nobel Prize for Peace. At this occasion, she stated, “I am grateful to receive it in the name of the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, and of all those who feel unwanted, unloved and uncared for throughout society” (“Mother Teresa, Winner of 1979 Nobel Peace Prize, Dies at Age 87,” 1997, p. 86).

In 1965, Pope Paul VI placed the Missionaries of Charity directly under the control of the papacy. He also authorized Mother Teresa to expand the order outside of India (Women’s History: Mother Teresa, n.d.). This was the start of a rapid growth of Mother Teresa’s order, entailing the initiation of new homes all over the world. Starting with Venezuela, the order spread to Rome and Tanzania and even further to various countries in Asia, Africa, and Europe including Albania. Sheldon (1994) confirmed this growth: “The Missionaries of Charity numbers more than 1,000 nuns who operate 60 centers in Calcutta and more than 200 centers around the world, including foundations in Shri Lanka, Tanzania, Jordan, Venezuela, Great Britain and Australia” (p. 185).

Egan (1997) enumerated how attention towards Mother Teresa grew as she received more and more honors including the Ceres Medal of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the Pope John XXIII Peace Prize, and the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. Egan continued, “During her 70th year, being awarded the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize made her name and work even better known around the world” (p. 18). Hines-Brigger (2003) reported, “Just over six years after her death, Pope John Paul II beatified Mother Teresa of Calcutta, founder of the Missionaries of Charity” (p. 8).

What can be derived from an analysis of Mother Teresa as a leader? Along with Mahatma Gandhi; Martin Luther King, Jr.; Nelson Mandela; and other great world leaders; Mother Teresa has been described as an integral leader who “requires a multi-disciplinary, multi-level and developmental approach” (Pauchant, 2005, p. 211). There is, in Mother Teresa’s case, an obvious relationship between herself as a leader, her followers (the nursing nuns, as well as the poor, ill, and rejected), and the situation. Her vocation was based on a calling, and this call became only stronger when she got confronted with the harsh situation of those who live and die on the streets with no one to care for them. Mother Teresa’s mission, as she laid it out, was one of a kind, which the world needs on a more continuous basis. Mother Teresa exhibited transformational leadership. She influenced the lives of many of her followers worldwide.

Mother Teresa’s most listed positive and negative qualities by the leadership students after reviewing the A&E documentary Mother Teresa: A Life of Devotion (Drury & Bullough, 1999) are listed in Table 4. Some traits of Mother Teresa that stand out are (a) her openness and frankness which helped her establish a powerful network of people from all walks of life; (b) her tremendous willpower which transformed her visions into actions no matter how long it took; and (c) her eloquence and alertness, meaning she was never shy of words and strong statements.

One of Mother Teresa’s most criticized qualities was her apparent preference of saving souls for her religion to saving lives. Cooke (2004) wrote, “As Teresa herself openly acknowledged, her work and that of the Missionaries of Charity is not about healing bodies, it is about saving souls” (p. 55). Mother Teresa (as cited in Cooke) never made a secret of the real priority of her order: “We are not nurses, we are not doctors, we are not teachers, we are not social workers. We are religious, we are religious, we are religious” (p. 55). Cooke subsequently concluded, “So the squalor of the bodies is of less importance than the effort through prayer for their souls” (p. 55). Reviewing the current whereabouts of Mother Teresa’s Order of Charity in what is now called Kolkata and what used to be Calcutta, Cooke stated, “With this set of priorities in mind, it becomes understandable that the nuns spend more time at prayer in the well-appointed and clean chapels than tending to the relatively few people the Order actually cares for” (p. 55). Elaborating on the reprehensible circumstances described, MacIntyre (2005) reported, “I worked undercover for a week in Mother Teresa’s flagship home for disabled boys and girls to record Mother Teresa’s Legacy, a special report for Five News broadcast earlier this month” (p. 25). MacIntyre remarked, “I winced at the rough handling by some of the full-time staff and Missionary sisters” (p. 25). He provided some examples of the disheartening images he witnessed, “I saw children with their mouths gagged open to be given medicine, their hands flaying in distress, visible testimony to the pain they were in. Tiny babies were bound with cloths at feeding time. Rough hands wrenched heads into position for feeding” (p. 25). MacIntyre claimed, “Some of the children retched and coughed as rushed staff crammed food into their mouths. Boys and girls were abandoned on open toilets for up to 20 minutes at a time” (p. 25). MacIntyre concluded, “Slumped, untended, some dribbling, some sleeping, they were a pathetic sight. Their treatment was an affront to their dignity, and dangerously unhygienic” (p. 25).

Table 4: Mother Teresa’s Most Listed Positive and Negative Qualities

Positive qualities

Negative qualities

Belief in her mission: continued practicing her calling even when her name and organization were opposed.

Intolerant: had little patience regarding negligence from her coworkers.

Self-confident: dared to approach great supporters and obtain powerful allies such as the pope and many philanthropists worldwide.

Disregard of family: did not return to Albany until after her mother’s death.

Perseverant: devoted all her time and energy to her vocation even when she started growing older and weaker.

Inflexible: was not open to other perspectives such as proponents of abortion and artificial contraception.

Disciplined: led by example, started early and worked late.

Calculative toward her mission: her preference for saving souls for her religion to saving lives has been heavily criticized.

Consistent: maintained her faith and continued to believe in her God throughout the disparities she witnessed.








Motivational: encouraged the rejected ones to dare facing life again.

Visionary: initiated a new order though she already had a well respected position.

Communicative: knew that speaking on public forums served as great promotion for her organization.

Honest: was very straightforward, openly opposed abortion and artificial contraception and did not care about possible consequences.

Courageous: expanded her organization to unfamiliar territories.

Empathetic: her compassion for the less fortunate made her one of the most admired figures of all times.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Born in Atlanta, Georgia, as the son of a minister, Martin Luther King, Jr. was raised in the contemporary, conventional way of segregation between Blacks and Whites. He earned two bachelor’s degrees, one in Sociology (from Morehouse College, a prestigious higher educational institution for Black males) and one in Divinity. He then attended Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania where he graduated as valedictorian in 1951. After that, he attended Boston University where he received his PhD in systematic theology in 1955 (Wolfson & Moynihan, 2003).

One of Kings’ earliest immediate confrontations with racial thinking was when he fell in love with the White daughter of the chancellor at the college where he was enrolled. She explained to him that their relationship could not go anywhere due to the segregative mindset that was prominent at the time (Kirby, Gopaul, & Cascio, 1998).

On June 18, 1953, he married Coretta Scott and had four children. In 1954, King accepted the pastorate of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama (Nobel Foundation, 1964). “He was ready, then, early in December, 1955, to accept the leadership of the first great Negro nonviolent demonstration of contemporary times in the United States. . . . The boycott lasted 382 days” (Nobel Foundation, ¶ 2). The Nobel Foundation further described, “On December 21, 1956, after the Supreme Court of the United States had declared unconstitutional the laws requiring segregation on buses, Negroes and whites rode the buses as equals” (¶ 2). King was arrested during these times of boycott, had his house bombed, and suffered several forms of personal abuse. Yet, stated the source, “at the same time he emerged as a Negro leader of the first rank” (¶ 2).

In 1957, he became the president of the newly formed Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and began to broaden his active role in the civil rights struggle while advocating his nonviolent approach based on the ideas of Henry David Thoreau and Mohandas Gandhi as well on Christian teachings (A&E Television Networks, 2004b).

King returned to Atlanta in 1959 to take over partial leadership of his father’s church. During those years, King had repeated fallouts with his father who opposed the antisegregation involvements of his son and who referred to him as a disgrace to the family. Nonetheless, King invested much of his energy in the ensuing years into organizing protest demonstrations and marches (A&E Television Networks, 2004b). In those years, King endured several incarcerations, was stoned and physically attacked, and found his house bombed by prosegregation groups. He was also placed under secret surveillance by the FBI due to the strong prejudices of the FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover, who wanted to discredit King as both a leftist and a womanizer (A&E Television Networks, 2004b).

King’s greatest achievement recorded was his leadership in the great march in Washington, DC on August 28, 1963. Martin Luther King Jr.’s goal was to promote the formation of the Beloved Community, envisaging a new social order wherein all kinds of people and groups would live together in unity and share equally the abundance of God’s creation (Vail, 2006). In 1964, at the height of his influence, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He subsequently used his newfound powers to attack discrimination in the North (A&E Television Networks, 2004b). King’s popularity started waning when he expanded his criticisms of American society, berating the impact of the war on the country’s resources and energies (A&E Television Networks, 2004b). King was assassinated on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee while preparing to lead a local march in support of the heavily Black Memphis sanitation workers’ union, which was on strike at the time (Sussman, 2005).

What can be derived from M. L. King, Jr. as a leader? The relationship between King, his followers, and the situation, was obvious. There was racial segregation. Blacks needed a charismatic, strong, influential leader to guide them and unite them toward legal progress. King was basically bombarded as their leader without initially even wanting it: he just happened to be at the right place at the right (or wrong) time. This fact leads to the conclusion that King could also be considered a citizen leader. As previously stated, “Citizen leaders usually do not choose leadership. They do not even seek it” (Couto, 1995, p. 13), and “Citizen leaders are not showered with traditional forms of recognition” (p. 15). Like all the leaders described, King exhibited transformational leadership: he influenced the lives of many of his followers nationwide. Throughout his leadership, King “displayed philosophical commitment to nonviolence” (Wycliff, 2006, p. 22), continuously trying to “explain to young black people why they should forgo self-defense in the face of homicidal violence by Klansmen and white vigilantes who were often in league with law enforcement” (Wycliff, p. 22).

King’s most listed positive and negative qualities by the leadership students after reviewing the A&E documentary Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Man and the Dream (Kirby et al., 1998) are listed in Table 5. Some traits of King that stand out are (a) his eloquence as a speaker, meaning that his refined vocabulary and sophisticated way of formulating his sentences resulted in him being well respected and well listened to; (b) his charisma and charm, meaning that his influence exceeded the boundaries of his physical presence both in a positive way (motivating the Blacks to stand up for equality) and negative way (aggravating those who preferred blind patriotism over truthful yet stinging criticism of U.S. foreign policy); and (c) his phenomenal strategic insight which led him to great victories in his strife against segregation.

Regarding King’s unethical behavior, there have been countless rumors and writings launched about his plagiarizing activities not only with regard to his doctoral thesis but also pertaining to his “I Have a Dream” speech. Murphy (2003) wrote, “King’s rampant plagiarism has received widespread comment, but is for ideological and political reasons relegated to what astronomers call a ‘black hole’” (p. 326). According to Murphy, the public has decided to ignore or accept King’s grave dishonest practices because he was such a great social reformer. “This is, of course,” stated Murphy, “a form of public hypocrisy” (p. 326). Murphy continued,

To the extent they allow themselves to be conscious of the plagiarism, those who value the King myth (and they are overwhelmingly powerful in opinion-making circles in the United States today) consider this a justifiable hypocrisy that serves a good end. (p. 326)

With specific reference to King’s most famous speech, Murphy claimed,

That peroration . . . bears an uncanny resemblance to the peroration concluding the speech of a black Republican, Archibald Carey, Jr., then a member of the Chicago City Council, to the 1952 Republican National Convention eleven years before King’s speech. (p. 326)

Although the detected positive qualities in this leader outnumber the negative ones, just like the other leaders described, one should, again, consider the impact of each quality or skill on all stakeholders. King was obviously not too concerned about the feelings of his closest collaborator, his wife. His adultery was infamous and must have hurt her own self-esteem.

In reviewing King’s legacy, Albright (2000) exclaimed, “Dr. King has become a symbol” (p. 219). He subsequently enumerated, “1. a symbol of calming harmony in a world of angry conflict—for every generation, 2. a symbol of human understanding in a world of bigoted ignorance—for every generation, 3. a symbol of tolerance and unity in a world of parochial disharmony—for every generation” (p. 219). Albright concluded, “Dr. King’s lessons of justice, brotherhood, and harmony should have no boundaries of race, nationality or time” (p. 219).

Martin Luther King, Jr., controversial as he may sometimes be reviewed, remains an icon in America’s history and has established a global legacy which definitely makes him one of the most interesting figures to analyze as a leader.

Table 5: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Most Listed Positive and Negative Qualities

Positive qualities

Negative qualities

Communicative: had a great voice projection that engaged his audience and overpowered his opponents.

Adulterer: was a Christian preacher but also a habitual womanizer.

Intelligent: dared to approach influential people without the inhibition he might have had if his education had been moderate or low.

Low self-esteem: needed to prove himself and demonstrate that he could get all the women he wanted.

Fearless: lost all inhibitions in realizing his mission once he realized that he would be assassinated.

Unethical: King reportedly plagiarized parts of his doctoral dissertation as well as his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Inspiring: motivated his followers toward organized resistance in marches that attracted national and international attention.







Determined: let nothing withhold him from reaching his goals once he had accepted his position as leader of the civil rights movement.

Resilient: only grew mentally after each imprisonment or attack he had to endure.

Strategic: centered his antisegregation campaigns in areas where the police chiefs were known as racists, instigated emotional and unprofessional responses, and brought the officers into trouble.

Courageous: stood for what he believed, regardless of the aversion of powerful opponents such as the FBI and various political groups.

Self-confident: exerted this quality well in his position as the leader of an oppressed group.

 Al Capone

One leader who may raise many eyebrows when mentioned as such is Al Capone. Capone was born Alphonse Capone in Brooklyn, New York in 1899 as the fourth son of seven children born of parents who had immigrated from Naples (Harrington, 1997; Kobler, 1971). Capone made an early start in his criminal career by joining two gangs, engaging in petty crimes, and getting suspended from high school at age 14 (Kobler). Soon thereafter, he moved up to a more vicious gang and obtained the nickname he would despise all his life, Scarface, when he made a brutal move on a young lady and got slashed by her brother in the right cheek with a switchblade (Luciano, 2003).

Capone married in 1918 to an Irish girl who bore him a son that same year. However, his deep involvement in the underworld caused him to move to Chicago the next year, apparently because he had been involved in a few homicides and some vicious confrontations with rival gangs. In Chicago, Capone started working for Johnny Torrio, a local gang leader (Luciano, 2003). Within 3 years, Capone moved up from being just a small, insignificant grunt worker to second in line in the gang hierarchy. When Torrio barely survived an assassination in 1925, he returned to Italy, leaving the organization in the capable hands of Capone. Prior to this assignment of succession, Torrio had already made sure that Capone was able to run the organization by leaving him for various lengths of time in full control. During those periods, Capone always demonstrated insight and strategic skills. Involved in a variety of prohibited activities such as illegal gambling, prostitution, and alcohol, Capone had an annual income that sometimes equaled 100 million dollars (Luciano). This made him largely immune to prosecution due to witness intimidation and the bribing of city officials with amounts that could easily run up to $20,000 (Kobler, 1971). Although unproven, Capone has been claimed responsible for seven of the most notorious gangland killings of the century in the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Luciano explained,

On January 8, 1929, it was said that Aielo and Moran gunned down Pasquilino Lolordo, yet another president of the Unione Siciliana, which Capone had supported. This was the last straw. Capone’s waiting game was over. He went after Moran with a vengeance. He ordered a hit. No ordinary hit. It was to be a multiple murder unleashed with bestial fury. Known as the St. Valentine’s Day massacre, it would become infamous around the world. (p. 48)

Capone, always smooth and clean before the crowd’s eyes, got captured when new laws endorsed in 1927 enabled the federal government to pursue Capone. “The two major aspects of Capone’s activities that fell within the federal purview were bootlegging and income-tax evasion” (Kobler, 1971, p. 270). With the conviction of income tax evasion, he received an 11-year sentence (Luciano, 2003). While serving time in an Atlanta prison, he was still able to run his business; but, when transferred to Alcatraz in San Francisco, he was guarded so heavily that he became incapable of maintaining control. It was not long thereafter that his empire started to crumble.

When Capone started showing signs of dementia in the mid 1930s, apparently from an untreated case of syphilis, he spent his last incarcerated year in the prison hospital. After his release, he retired to his Florida estate and abstained from all mafia interests. He died in 1947 from the syphilis that had deteriorated his health.

What can be derived from Capone as a leader? The relationship that existed between Capone, his followers, and the situation was one that could be perceived as driven by control and coerciveness. His opponents knew how ruthless he was, and his followers were well aware of the price of treason. Although being a member of his organization was a voluntary initiative of the gangsters, they knew that exiting was almost always equivalent to death. Capone exhibited transactional leadership. Transactional leaders “motivate followers by setting goals and promising rewards for desired performance” (Hughes et al., 2002, p. 416). Capone did not care about lasting relationships but preferred fast paced, transaction-oriented affiliations.

Capone’s most listed positive and negative qualities by the leadership students after reviewing the A&E documentary Al Capone: Scarface (Towers, 2005) are listed in Table 6. Some traits of Capone that stand out are (a) his hard work, whether physically or mentally, depending on the situation at hand; (b) his well groomed appearance which earned him great respect from the people with whom he dealt; and (c) his visionary skills, giving him a leading edge in several of the ventures he undertook in his victorious years.

Capone, in this line of leaders reviewed, is the only leader of whom the lists of positive and negative qualities are equally long. Furthermore, his negative qualities were infinitely more destructive than his positive ones, which made Capone a fairly unpopular individual to those who perceive leadership as an act merely involved in positive behavior and societal elevating outcomes.

Capone, although listed in the annals as one of the 20th century’s most infamous criminals, still remains an intriguing person around whom various books, documentaries, and other information sources have been created. As an interesting side note, Ylagan (2005) argued, “Al Capone, according to [Chris Mathers], first coined the term ‘money laundering’ in the 1930s. It is a witty play of words descriptive of Capone’s ‘front’ business for his illegal liquor business” (p. 1).

Capone has managed to establish a legacy, whether perceived as instructive or destructive. So, regardless if liked or disliked, loved or hated, accepted or condemned, his name is world renowned.

Table 6: Al Capone’s Most Listed Positive and Negative Qualities

Positive qualities

Negative qualities

Influential: managed to expand the power of his organization to a level that was beyond the imagination of his predecessor.

Adulterer: was a womanizer and was rarely ever at home.

Family oriented: took care of his entire extended family after his father’s death.

Over confident: thought that he would always be able to coerce, bribe, or eliminate anyone who crossed his path.

Strategic: won the sympathy of the poor by sponsoring their food in the early depression years.

Ruthless: would have his closest confidant assassinated if he detected signs of betrayal.

Determined: worked hard to impress his leaders in order to move up the ranks of power.

Manipulative: did everything to remain popular in the eyes of the public, always ensuring a spotless alibi.

Courageous: went to great lengths for his goals regardless of the consequences.

Authoritarian: led his gang with an iron hand through the chaotic 1920s.

Comparing the Leaders

In the following segment of this paper, the reviewed leaders are evaluated, first on their similarities and then on their differences. Before comparing these leaders with one another, again, note that this paper is strictly focused on individuals who made a name for themselves in the world, whether positive or negative, and who clearly had skills that made them the outstanding persons they became. Regardless of the emotional perspectives some readers may have toward one or more of these individuals, whether seen from a religious, racial, or moral point of view, this paper merely reviews their leadership qualities, the strategies they used, and the ways they carried themselves through life in order to find out what their driving motives and traits were and what leadership scholars and other interested individuals can learn from these attributes.


Confidence. Once they had set their goals, they went for them regardless of the price they had to pay. In three of these cases, it cost these leaders their lives; Christ, Gandhi, and King were all slain by opposing members of their societies. In the cases of Castro, Christ, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and King, it is also remarkable that they were all standing up for a suppressed group, advocating their needs and trying to mince their suffering. It can be vividly imagined that many contemporaries of these leaders may have perceived them as arrogant because of their drive and self-prophesized value for those they represented. Yet, while Castro, Christ, Mother Teresa, and Gandhi took it onto themselves to become the leader of the group they represented, King initially had to be persuaded into taking on his position. Nevertheless, King, too, had a remarkable dosage of self-confidence when it came to the realization of his goals. Capone, on the other hand, displayed his confidence in a different way: he impressed his superiors and proved his value in brutal actions as were appropriate in the circles in which he moved.

Hard work. All of the described individuals went to extreme lengths to achieve their goals. Castro was an active member of the guerilla army that attempted to overthrow the Batista government. In Christ’s case, there are many stories that reveal his alertness while his disciples were sleeping, most remarkably on the night he was arrested by the Romans. Gandhi’s hard work was not only demonstrated by his lean appearance but also by his antioppression activism in South Africa as well as India. Mother Teresa’s hard work was demonstrated by her long hours of wakefulness. In 1993, Bunnewith reported, “Mother Teresa is always up by 4. When asked how she can routinely go to bed after midnight and be up only a few hours later, Cormier said Mother Teresa tells people, ‘I sleep fast’” (p. A1).

King’s hard work was demonstrated by his successful coordination of multiple mass marches; his other tireless efforts to enhance equality in the United States; and his eternal preparedness to be interviewed, travel, execute speeches, and participate in nonviolent opposition activities. His Nobel Peace Prize is also evidence of King’s perceived hard work. Capone’s hard work was demonstrated by his rapid rise to the mafia top and his ingenuity that led to the financial wealth he generated in the 1920s.

Courage. All of the reviewed leaders had to display great courage to achieve the immortal names they now have. Without exception, they all engaged in controversion, thereby risking the hate and opposition of influential groups. Castro was and is still despised by the well-to-do Cubans who fled the island. Christ was despised by the Romans and Jews alike because he dared to call himself “King of the Jews.” Gandhi was hated by those who wanted the caste system to remain in tact and who opposed independence. Mother Teresa fell out of favor of the prochoice groups as a result of her firm opposition of abortion and artificial contraceptives. King was opposed by various groups, starting with the White supremacists. Yet, some of the Black and various political streams also expressed a great antagonism toward this leader. Capone was opposed by rival gangs as well as governmental and judicial groups.

Empathy for the less fortunate. Although this urge to help the oppressed can be considered genuine in the cases of Castro, Christ, Gandhi, and King, some sources have questioned Mother Teresa’s motives (i.e., Cooks, 2004). Mother Teresa’s legacy, the Order of Charity, is more focused on gaining souls for Christianity than saving lives of people based on humanitarian convictions. In regards to another leader, Capone’s generous acts toward the poor and downtrodden were mainly focused on gaining influence and popularity than real empathy for these sufferers.

Charisma, particularly through communication skills. These leaders won their supporters with their superior speaking skills which enabled them repeatedly to take control of chaotic situations. Not only were these leaders, each for their own, capable of changing the minds of important people among their contemporaries, but they were also capable of using their visions in applying their influence toward the right persons and entities in order to expand their power.

Strategic insights and visionary skills. Throughout their recorded explorations, these qualities were exposed for each of these leaders. Castro used his strategic insight to work his way into power in Cuba by using the climate of dissatisfaction with the contemporary Batista regime. Christ used his visionary skills to predict future events to his disciples. He also used his strategic insights when he performed some of his famous multiplication miracles of bread and wine in front of entire crowds, thereby establishing great fame and respect. Gandhi used his strategy of Satyagraha, or nonviolent civil disobedience, in South Africa as well as India with great success in spite of initial opposition from various educated groups. Mother Teresa used the strategy of setting up a great public relations network and a line of influential contacts with the Vatican to achieve the legal and financial support she needed to establish and later globally expand her Order of Charity. King used the strategy of selecting grave judicial opponents of civil rights to ignite campaigns in their cities of responsibility, knowing they would sooner or later lose their temper and ridicule themselves. Capone used strategies of supporting the poor in harsh depression times in order to build a civil support system.

Intelligence. Although not all formally highly educated, all of these leaders demonstrated a high level of insight, level-headedness, and awareness in order to achieve their goals in the effective and lastingly impressive way they did. Three of the six leaders described possessed prestigious degrees: Castro and Gandhi were lawyers while Martin Luther King, Jr. held a PhD in Systematic Theology. Mother Teresa was a teacher and further educated herself in basic nursing when she planned on starting her Order of Charity in Calcutta. According to sources in the A&E documentary Jesus: His Life (Talley, 2005), Christ had earned his job skills as a carpenter from his father but furthered his education through roaming all over the continent in which he was born, thereby meeting several Brahmins and learning from various cultures. Capone obtained the intelligence he needed for his career (street smartness and calculated unscrupulousness) early on in his life as a street gang member and used these skills later to eliminate his opponents and corrupt the local legal system.

Determination. None of these leaders would have earned their legacy, whether positive or negative, if they had not held onto their visions throughout all the contemporary opposition that they undoubtedly received from various sides.

Resilience. This quality is closely related to determination as well as these leaders’ visionary skills. After formulating their vision, these individuals remained determined to reach the set goals and maintained their resilience during their numerous threats and setbacks. Castro was not discouraged after the initially failed invasion on the Batista administration. He learned from the mistakes he made, recomposed, and came back with a better plan next time. Christ did not let the repeated rejections from the elders in his hometown Nazareth bring him down. He moved to neighboring cities and spread his word there; this is how he gained influence and created his crowd of followers. Gandhi did not let the oftentimes negative criticism of his nonviolent civil disobedience distract him. He stuck to his strategy throughout many incarcerations which ultimately paid off greatly. Mother Teresa did not let the rejecting attitude of some countries toward her Order of Charity discourage her initiative. She kept on trying; if not welcome in one country, she tried another. King, like Gandhi, followed the road of nonviolent disobedience consistently, regardless of the heavy criticism from opponents and supporters alike, and ultimately obtained the same level of success and greatness with this strategy in spite of multiple incarcerations. Capone, in his triumph years, only became greater after each setback. When he was sent out of New York to cool off in Chicago, he became an even bigger and more brutal mafia leader.

Disregard for those closest to them. Less obvious but still present among the leaders is this trait. Castro divorced and disregarded his wife when he was in prison and found out that she was on Batista’s payroll. Christ left his home to spread his teachings and rarely saw his mother again until the day he was crucified. His siblings and other close relatives were not even mentioned in the scriptures. Gandhi regularly ridiculed his wife and imposed unreasonable demands on his sons. Mother Teresa, having left as a young woman, did not return to her home country until after her mother’s death. King ridiculed his wife through his repeated adulterous behavior. Capone, although strongly connected with his parents and siblings, also ridiculed his wife in the same manner as King through habitual adultery.

Authoritarianism. Although applied to various degrees by several of these leaders, there are examples of authoritarian tendencies in all of them. Castro has been known as a leader who does not appreciate other viewpoints. He has imprisoned and eliminated many of his opponents over time. Christ’s rage in the temple where a market was being held is one of the most famous examples of his potential authoritarian behavior. Gandhi’s authoritarianism may have been limited to the private circle. Yet, it is known that he was not particularly kind towards his closest family members. Also, in his battle against sexual temptation, he slept with naked young women without touching them only to serve his own purposes, without considering these women’s feelings. Mother Teresa was known for her roaring anger against the smallest inefficiency from her subordinates. King, like Gandhi, may have limited his authoritarian traits to his private life. After all, nonviolent opposition does not leave too much room for obvious authoritarianism. However, his adulterous behavior may refer to that trait as it can be assumed that his wife was not in agreement with his adultery. Capone has been well known for his authoritarian, coercive approach. He silenced everyone who dared to cross his path, and murder was not an issue of hesitation.

Impassioned way of going for their goals. In practically all of the cases, with a possible exception of Capone, these leaders did not primarily care for wealth accumulation or role modeling. They were primarily driven by their passion for the purpose they had formulated in their lives.


The goal they set with their given set of leadership skills. While 5 of the 6 reviewed individuals were at least once seen as saviors of a large group of people, one of the individuals, Capone, preferred to use his skills in a negative setting, where no progress was aimed but personal and organizational enrichment at the expense of an entire society.

Appearance. An interesting observation is that while Christ, Gandhi, Castro, and Mother Teresa did not particularly seem to care about their appearance, King and Capone were always extremely representative. Although there could be no greater difference than the goals of King and Capone, it also has to be noted that both, to a certain degree, engaged in various kinds of ethical misconduct. King has been accused of plagiarism in multiple crucial cases as well as adultery, and Capone has been recognized as one of the greatest mafia criminals as well as an unparalleled adulterer. The care for a professional appearance between King and Capone may have been culturally ingrained as both resided in the United States.


As has been reviewed in this paper, there are more similarities than differences among the six leaders analyzed in this paper. Particularly, the similarities were of a very interesting nature. This may lead to the conclusion that, although only measured on a small sample of leaders and perhaps not in all cases applicable with the same degree of success, the following traits can be considered important in leadership:

  1. Confidence: A great leader needs to know where he or she wants to go and believe in himself or herself in the way to realize that goal.
  2. Hard work: A great leader will establish trust by displaying hard work, knowing that subordinates get motivated when they know that their leader does not leave it all up to them.
  3. Courage: A great leader knows that decisions oftentimes need to be made without all the desired information at hand. Responsible risk taking is part of successful leadership, whereby the leader knows that it is the follow-up after a decision which frequently guarantees the success or failure of a project.
  4. Empathy for subordinates: A great leader maintains contact with followers and demonstrates interest and empathy without getting too involved.
  5. Communication skills: A great leader communicates to his or her followers in the first place, in order to ensure their support, and to other stakeholders as well, in order to keep all parties informed of the direction.
  6. Strategic insight and vision: A great leader lays out a plan of action, as well as one or more alternative plans, in order to realize his or her vision. A great leader knows that without a vision, every direction is as good as another.
  7. Appropriate intelligence: Although not every great leader has to have a high formal education, it is crucial for a leader to have useful knowledge about the business and its environment in order to determine directions.
  8. Determination: A great leader has tremendous willpower without being overly stubborn. He or she will focus on the goal yet realize when, due to developments in the market or the industry, a change is necessary.
  9. Resilience: A great leader does not get discouraged by setbacks along the way but knows that setbacks are part of the learning process. The leader will learn from the setbacks, recuperate, and move on with a stronger and better plan.

Most remarkably, the overarching theme weaved through all the qualities which makes a difference between a mediocre and an unforgettable leader is passion. All of the leaders were impassioned about their purpose. This passion has turned out to be the outstanding quality which has led to the immortality of their names and actions. Figure 2 illustrates how the great leadership qualities are aligned with each other and how passion forms the overarching characteristic in becoming an unforgettable leader.

An interesting observation may be that all of the reviewed individuals demonstrated a significant lack of connection with those closest to them, even though these were most likely the people they relied on for mental and emotional support. One could conclude that the need for greatness may be inversely related to family devotion. This could be an interesting topic for future research. Figure 2 should be seen as an ideal representation of great leadership, including all common qualities derived from this study with respect for close relatives as a foundational element.

Figure 2: The elements that procreate impassioned leadership.

Implication of Findings

The qualities that surfaced through this study (confidence, hard work, empathy, risk taking, communication, strategic insight, intelligence, determination, resilience, passion, and respect for close relatives) require one important prerequisite in anyone who would like to engage in leadership: the will to develop them. It may not be that everyone has the ability to develop these qualities to the same extent. But, attaining life experience usually contributes significantly in advancement and maintenance of these qualities. While there may be good leaders who lack the final quality (respect for close relatives), the other traits are absolute necessities for success in leadership. However, as was also demonstrated, one should incorporate flexibility in the perception of these qualities. Intelligence, for instance, does not necessarily have to be expressed in formal education.


Individuals with leadership aspirations should realize that authoritarianism is not necessarily a bad thing but should be applied with moderation in appropriate circumstances. In crises, for instance, authoritarianism can be helpful when followers need clear directives and no lengthy team decision-making procedures. As many leadership gurus have clarified before, there is no single recipe for great leadership. Leadership is an interaction between the leader, the followers, and the situation. Given these aspects, the right strategy should emerge.

About the Author

Dr. Joan Marques is the author of The Awakened Leader: One Simple Leadership Style, That Works Every Time, Everywhere (2007; Personhood Press), and coauthor of Spirituality in the Workplace: What it Means; Why it Matters; How to Make it Work for You (2007; Personhood Press). She facilitates courses in business and management at Woodbury University in Burbank, California; presents a weekly radio column in the Netherlands; and regularly coorganizes and presents workshops for business and nonprofit entities in the Los Angeles area through the Business Renaissance Institute (www.bri-usa.com), which she cofounded in 2004. Dr. Marques holds a bachelor’s degree in business economics, a master’s degree in business administration, and a doctorate in organizational leadership. She may be reached at www.joanmarques.com
E-mail: jmarques01@earthlink.net


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