Traits characteristics and temperament of a successful leader

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For this research paper I have chosen to analyze an American recent graduate Brendan Callahan, a cofounder of the non-profit non-governmental organization called Achieve in Africa.

The reason why I have chosen Brendan as a leader for the analysis is the following: last year I spent five weeks in Africa (South Africa, Swaziland, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe) and during my travelling I met many African people with their unique stories. A majority of them had one thing in common: they were not educated, that means they couldn't neither write nor read. I was very sorry for these children and adults because for me and for other people coming from developed countries education is a normal and common thing. Someone may claim that even in developed countries there are also some people who can't read and write but this percentage is very small, less than 1%. But in many African countries the situation is completely different. The number of uneducated people is extremely high. "At 30%, Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest primary and secondary school enrollment rate in the world. About 40% of Africans above age 15 and half of women in Africa over age 25 are illiterate." [1] The reason why this percentage is so high is because people don't regard education as an important thing. Parents think that their children don't need education because they themselves don't need it either. They are not capable to realize that education can bring them better future and open to them more possibilities in their life.

During his travelling in Tanzania, Brendan encountered many uneducated individuals. This made him so sad that after his return to home he decided to found a non-profit organization to support these people. This research paper will thus be about Brendan Callahan, a young leader, who helps to change a life of those who were not as lucky as we educated people coming from developed countries.

In the beginning of this paper, I would like to briefly describe what had motivated Brendan to found this organization and what the goals of the organization are. In the second part, I will analyze his personality. In the third part, I will focus on general characteristics of a successful leader and his interaction with his followers; after that I will try to find some reasons for the success of Brendan's organization and in the final part, I will highlight why Brendan should be considered as an ideal and successful leader and in addition, I will also briefly explain in what way he has "changed the world."

Motivation of a leader and the goals of the organization

As I already mentioned in the introduction, Brendan is a cofounder of the Achieve in Africa. Another cofounder is his friend Alyssa Snow. On the web pages dedicated to their organization Brendan explains what has motivated him to found such an organization. He says that "he was amazed at the African students' thirst for knowledge despite a learning environment bereft of accommodations and support. The trip inspired a desire to help in a tangible way." [2] Brendan was aware of the fact that to support all these children financially would be too expensive and hardly possible. Therefore, he came up with an idea to create this organization that would support the children in a little bit different way. The organization, established in September 2008, doesn't support children directly financially but it builds for them fully equipped schools and offers them education. In addition, it also helps them to integrate themselves into a common society.

Because African children, in general, are not motivated they experience problems with education. For them education is not important because they are not able to realize that it is necessary for finding a well-paid job and thus improving their future. They can't and they don't want to comprehend that without the ability to read and write they won't be able to find a proper job when they grow up. Consequently, they will be forced to work on the fields like their parents.

The aim of this organization is therefore to build schools where it is necessary, offer the African children education, change their attitude to school and motivate them to work on their self-education. Inasmuch as this idea can't be implemented by one person Brendan posted an advertisement on the internet saying that he was looking for volunteers to help with the construction of schools and to teach various subjects there. A couple of people, students as well as adults, replied to that ad and agreed to help. Brendan thus met various people who were determined to help to make that project come true. Since the organization needs a lot of administration tasks as well Brendan needed someone to help him with it. Alyssa agreed to become responsible for this and the whole project could start.

Traits and characteristics of a leader

In the second part, I would like to focus on the leader's personality. Since I don't know Brendan personally my analysis of him runs a risk of being a little bit inaccurate. To avoid this, I will try to point out only the features that I have verified from various articles and web pages. I dare say Brendan is a prototype of an ideal leader because he posses various skills and traits that are necessary for being a successful leader. Combination of his skills helps him not only in his professional but also in his personal life. Brendan is an intelligent and highly educated person who graduated from the Boston University. He can speak English, which is his native language, and Swahili. He is a very self-confident, communicative and open-minded person who loves to learn new things. He is interested in business and in getting to know about new cultures and ethnic minorities. Besides of that, he is a very helpful person who is always ready to offer a helping hand to anybody who needs it regardless of the person's religion, race and sex. Concerning his communication skills, the leader has a high ability to highlight the uniqueness of his organization and thus persuade other people to support it either financially or in terms of joining it and becoming a volunteer. Regarding the performance of his work, Brendan seems to be a hard working and quick-minded person able to work in a stressful environment. As a true leader he is persistent and doesn't give it up when he encounters a problem. In addition, he works in his organization for a symbolic salary. This fact is very crucial and has to be taken into account because it can't be said that he works hard because he is motivated by money. To put it another way, it is definitely not money that motivates him to work hard. Instead, it is his vision and achievements which motivate him to continue in his work.

General characteristics of a leader and his interaction with his followers

As I already mentioned above, I don't know Brendan personally therefore I can't analyze his personality into a depth. Instead of that, I will point out what traits and characteristics a leader should have in order to be considered a successful leader. Besides of the characteristics and abilities that were mentioned in the previous paragraph, a leader should also take into account the following points.

The first point concerns planning and communicating a message or a vision. Fahri Karakas in his article 'The Twenty-First Century Leader: Social Artist, Spiritual Visionary, and Cultural Innovator' writes that it is essential for a leader to "have a clear vision of the future he/she wishes to create and to use a long-term perspective to create viability for current and future generations" (47-48). The task of the leader is not only to have a detailed plan of a vision in his mind but he also has to be able to communicate or deliver his vision to his followers. The vision has to be clear and perfectly described/explained to the followers so that it can be regarded as a force which will motivate them to work hard. 'Perfectly described/explained' in this sense means that a leader has to be able to communicate his vision briefly but clearly. Some psychologists call this communication ability as an "elevator speech" (How to Inspire through Vision - even in Rocky Times). If the vision is not precisely planned and if it doesn't include an in-depth procedure it may discourage the followers because they wouldn't know what the goals and the general sense of the whole project are.

The ability to communicate a message and clearly express ideas is associated with a language. The leader is expected to use an appropriate language. "The use of jargon and ill-defined terms can lead to confusion and risk isolating or excluding team members" (Mohanna 9). To support her statement, Mohanna gives examples and explains that it sounds better and more professional if a leader says "Let's aim to try out this plan and look at it again by this date" instead of "You will do this action by that date" or "I think you might see this (specific) unwanted outcome if you try that" instead of saying "That's a rubbish idea" (9). They way the leader speaks may tell a lot about his personality, intelligence and education. If the leader were to use this jargon in a public place, it would probably discourage potential people to be concerned with his vision or project. The leader has to behave professionally and it means to use an appropriate language as well.

Donald J. Palmisano emphasizes that a true leader shouldn't "fail to act in the absence of either instructions for an unexpected crisis or the desired data in which to base decision" (23). Although such crisis is unpleasant for the leader and his team, it is inevitable and may be also helpful since it tests whether the leader is able to decide without delay and keep a cool head.

Concerning the interaction with his followers, the leader should follow some basic steps. First of all, he should be able to create a friendly environment. Psychologists focusing on leadership say this point is necessary because all members need to feel comfortable and relaxed in order to work hard and produce the maximum. Friendly environment may also help them to produce new interesting ideas and talk about them openly with their colleagues.

Secondly, the leader shouldn't be egocentric and isolated. Instead, he should regard himself as a member of the group. Kay Mohanna, a senior lecturer at the Keele University Medical School [3] who is interested in leadership for healthcare professionals, emphasizes that "leaders need to be comfortable working with, and talking to, staff or colleagues individually or collectively" (7). If a leader is not able to manage this, he won't be able to communicate his vision clearly or to discuss about serious problems openly. Mohanna furthermore adds that a successful leader "listens, consults, involves and explains why, as well as what, needs to be done" (9). Besides of that, it is necessary for a leader to have the ability to "guide in ways that give people a sense of clarity and direction in their work and that encourage flexibility, setting people free to use their best sense of how to get the job done" (Goleman, Boyatzis, McKee 9).

The second point is closely related with the next point, which is a personal contact. An ideal leader should keep a personal contact with each of his followers and be ready to give and receive feedback, both positive and negative. Giving and receiving feedback is necessary for both parties (leader and followers) because the followers can express their opinions or problems and the leader can thus have a chance to think about what should be improved or changed. Psychologists found out that feedback motivates people to continue in their work because they know how they are doing. "Without feedback, production will be less efficient and will exact a significant toll in the form of increased levels of stress and anxiety" (Kouzes, Posner 341). In addition, a leader should also regularly hold sessions where all members meet and talk about their experiences. On these sessions the leader should be open to listen to the experiences of his followers, their suggestions or problems. Linda A. Talley, the author of the article 'Ten Ways to Develop a Powerful Staff' says that this point is very important for the leader because by listening the problems of his followers, he will become a powerful person and people will be attracted by him because they will have a feeling that he understands them and their problems. The leader's ability to listen to the followers will also reassure them that the leader is really one of them and not an isolated figure.

Another important feature that a leader should take into account is supporting his followers to appreciate each other. Linda A. Talley explains that this is very beneficial because colleagues thus encourage each other to work hard and to continue in their work. On one hand, I agree with her statement because it also helps to create a friendlier environment in the company/organization, but on the other hand, I don't agree because I think that this appreciation shouldn't be practiced too often otherwise it could lead to an opposite effect - the workers could start to rest on their laurels and they wouldn't be motivated to work hard anymore.

Why is Brendan's organization successful?

In the next part of the essay I would like to highlight why I regard Achieve in Africa as a successful and well-known organization. There are many reasons for it but the primary one, which I also regard as the most important one, is related to the founder and leader in one person, Brendan Callahan. During two and half year existence of this organization, he has managed to build a strong non-governmental and non-profit organization that strives to improve a life of African children. Their goal is to make children understand that their parents will not be able to take care of them all the time and therefore it is necessary to learn to be self-sufficient. Although African people are known to have strong social bonds they can't always rely on them. The children should learn to be fully responsible for their own life because nothing will be given to them for free. It will be them who will have to find a work, go to work and earn money. The aim of the Achieve in Africa is to make children realize this and prepare them for life in terms of socialization and education.

Since Achieve in Africa is a non-governmental and non-profit organization it has to rely only on the money from the supporters. As a consequence, the leader and all the followers (= volunteers) are not paid or they are paid but not much for their work. They don't do their work because of money but because they want to help all those children whose were less fortunate. Now comes the question how the leader and all his followers are motivated if they do the work either for free or for a minimal wage. Is money the only real force that makes people work hard? Sometimes but not always and definitely not in non-governmental non-profitable organizations that are known for doing their work either for a minimal wage or for free. All volunteers working for this organization are motivated in two ways. Firstly, they are motivated by the leader who gives them power and who supports them to do their best; and secondly, they are motivated by children's progresses and achievements. These two kinds of motivation give them enough strength and strong-mindedness to continue in their uneasy but beneficial work.

The next feature that makes the organization successful relates to marketing, advertisement, and propagation. The organization runs a donation program on the support of education. On the web pages of Achieve in Africa people can read that 95% of the donated money will directly go to support and the rest 5% will be used to cover the administration costs. In addition, it says that "Achieve in Africa representatives that travel to Africa raise funds for their travel costs separately from the organization's donations." [4] The fact that these pieces of information are publicly announced makes the organization distinct since the founders openly confess that not the whole amount of money will be used to the support. I have searched on the internet to find out whether this kind of information is also mentioned on other organizations' web pages. I haven't found any. I appreciate that this information is mentioned because every donator will know what will happen with the money and how many percentage from the amount will be given to the support. Since its foundation the organization has managed to collect more than $ 5,000, i.e. enough money to build a completely new school with full equipment.

Another program that is run by the organization is called Pen Pal Friends. "It enables students of Olasiti Primary School (located in Tanzania) to exchange letters with students in the United States." [5] According to Brendan Callahan, this program is very popular among the children because both parties can get to know about the culture of his/her friend, moreover, the African children can practice and improve their writing skills and the knowledge of the English language.

The leader with his coworkers has also created web pages where they inform about current projects and upcoming events. The stories describing their vision are supplemented by videos, photos and presentations. The public is thus well-known informed about all their achievements, and in addition, the public can also make sure that all the collected money is really used for their planned projects. Besides of that, the leader has contacts on media, politicians, and businessmen that support them and help them to spread their vision. Without the media and the advertisement the organization probably wouldn't be able to implement their visions nor to accomplish their projects, such as building a school and providing education to children.


In a conclusion I would like to mention that writing this essay was very interesting for me but I experienced little difficulties. These difficulties were caused by the fact that I don't know Brendan personally. As a consequence, it was hardly possible to make an in-depth analysis of his personality. During the research concerning his personality I had to rely only on the materials found on the internet. Nevertheless, in the third paragraph I tried to highlight what characteristics a leader should posses and how he should treat his followers in order to be considered as a successful leader. I dare say Brendan is aware of all these points otherwise he wouldn't be able to establish such a strong organization with a high fundraising and with so many achievements within a short period of time.

To summarize, I would like to highlight in what ways Brendan Callahan has changed the world and why he should be considered as a successful leader. As it was already mentioned throughout the essay, Brendan is a special and extraordinary leader because of the traits and characters that he possesses. What should be particularly appreciated is his determination to establish such a strong organization outside of his native country and to do this kind of work for free or for a minimal wage. This person and his followers have definitely changed the world in a sense that they give children a hope for a better future. Thanks to these volunteers the Tanzanian children have a chance to obtain education which can definitely help them in their future not only in terms of finding a work but it may also help them to solve poverty and hunger and fight against AIDS. Through education African children have "the opportunity to reach their full potential, lead better lives, and inspire future generations." [6] 



Chambers, R., Mohanna K., Spurgeon P., Wall, D. How to Succeed as a Leader. New York: Radcliffe Publishing, 2007

Goleman D., Boyatzis R. E., McKee A. Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence. Massachusetts: Harvard Business School Press, 2002.

Kouzes J.M., Posner B.Z. The Leadership Challenge. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002

Palmisano, Donald J. On Leadership: Essential Principles for Success. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2008.


Linda A. Talley - Ten Ways to Develop a Powerful Staff

Accessed on March 20, 2011

How to Inspire the Vision - even in Rocky Times

Accessed on March 21, 2011

Karakas, Fahri. Twenty-first Century Leader.

Accessed on March 19, 2011

Web pages:

Achieve in Africa - web pages dedicated to the organization

Accessed on March 18, 2011

Boston University - provides information about its graduate Brendan Callahan

Accessed on March 16, 2011

Medical Education Unit: 5th Asia Pacific Medical Education Conference - provides information about Kay Mohanna

Accessed on March 22, 2011