In one word: Consistency.
It is not necessarily his/her charisma, the message, number of followers, a certain image or physical appearance; neither his/her self-confidence or being in top positions. All this may emerge or not, be hidden or flourish, depending on multiple factors. However, the overall scarcity of ‘consistency’ in society may point out a true leader quite soon. Not much time is required to identify it. Maybe only a change in the circumstances.
An ordinary person is only consistent when he recognizes an evident benefit for him or for his partial interests. A real leader is consistent when he ‘feels’ the mere possibility for a benefit for any legitimate interest surrounding him. Barely such possibility is enough to lead him to explore it [consistently].
This is the reason why it is not possible to be a leader without being an ‘explorer’ (a consistent explorer); without exploring on a regular basis how to provide a sustainable, fair and favorable position to the people around. A true leader is consistent in this even without obtaining suitable or appropriate responses. He is just generous and fully committed trying to figure out how to make it easier for others to follow his vision; how to inspire them to make it happen.
Most people are reluctant, fearful and, as a result, ‘inconsistent’ outside their constrained comfort zone. Simply, they tend to leave people, ventures and projects when they become aware that they must expose something ‘extra’ without clearly seeing the tangible benefit for them, almost in real time (not necessarily because they don’t have interest in those issues, people and objectives they leave).
Even in ‘one to one’ personal relationships, this is the usual occurrence.
We need to feel all the time a strong sense of control and personal accomplishment. At least, a definitive expectation of achieving them in the very short term. So, we dispute, demand, compete and manipulate (always) in order to reach our exclusive, personal goals; to impose our dominium.
Maybe, it is just an additional precaution against what looks or sounds strange to us (like a threat), but it also points out lack of leadership, self confidence and, above all, emotional maturity, which we can externally identify in the form of ‘inconsistency’ in many people and episodes of our day to day.
What is extraordinary is to find those individuals ready and willing to face a big deal of uncertainty, make sacrifices and take unusual risks for the sake of others. That is, to favor the interest of other people along with –and beyond– their own, sole interest. In other words, to make society progress. People genuinely identified and concerned with the common good in any social group and environment.
These are the leaders.