I've talked about being a leader before, but that was more about the OOC parts of being the party leader and not the character type of being a leader. The two are, perhaps unsurprisingly, very similar to each other, but I still felt that this merited its own post as well. So, pull up a chair and lets take a look at what you need to be 'The Leader'.
A leader is something almost every group needs. Sure, some groups can get by without one, but in general people are not only social creatures, but social creatures with a bent towards hierarchy. Think about every group you've ever been in, I'll bet that there was someone, or someones, who everyone looked to on occasion to make the decisions. Even if it was just a "We should hang out tonight" or a "So, I'm going to see this movie on Friday, anyone else want in?". See, without a leader a group works off of democracy, and democracy for all of its merits is inherently a slow system; especially when people are being indecisive. Think about it, when was the last time you basically had the following conversation with a friend?
"Hey, yeah, me too"
"We should eat"
"So, what do you want to eat?"
"I dunno, you decide"
"I'm good for whatever you want"
And so on until it is two to three hours later and you're still hungry because neither one of you will just step up and go "Lets get pizza" or "Lets make that macaroni we have in the cupboard". Sure, not everyone may have that experience, but those without it are probably the leaders of their groups.
Now, groups in RPGs are not much different. That conversation about getting food has probably come up in your RPGs on occasion too hasn't it? Only, isntead of food it was people trying to decide what to do with the newest bit of plot you'd given them. Perhaps it was the inverse of this, it wasn't that no one could decide, its that everyone wanted to go a different route and then couldn't compromise on where to go first - afterall, no one wants to split the party up. That's suicide. As such though, you really need a leader to keep everyone together, and to guide the group through what is going on. So, what do you need in your character to be that leader?
It's all about confidence.
The first, and most important, part about being a leader is you need to be confident. This is as much an IC as an OOC thing, but you need to be sure of yourself. If you can't be sure of yourself, you need to be able to look like you are sure of yourself. Don't second guess yourself, and make your decisions with conviction.
As I said in the post about being a party leader, a bad decision is better than no decision. Your GM will probably not rake you all over the coals for a bad decision, especially when it is at least keeping the game going. So, be confident and make your decisions. Make sure your character is sure of themselves, and that they can project that confidence, it will really help with keeping the rest of the people in the group in line.
Jack of All Trades, Master of None
This is one of the things that can throw many people when playing a leader type. In most cases, a good leader is not the best at any one aspect of the things the group does - with the possible exception of tactics. They are, instead, a generalist. They are not the best fighter, but they are a capable fighter. They are not the best social monkey, but they are capable social characters. They are not the best mage, but they understand how it works to some degree.
Mechanically, this can make a leader a bit boring to play. After all, you are - by design - solid but not spectacular. You don't get to put out the crazy damage numbers in combat, you don't get to drown people in social dice, and you don't get to pull on the arcane or ethereal to defeat your foes. Instead, you are existent in those fields, but not enough to shine.
A good leader is a solid back up in all the fields, or at least most of the fields, that the other party members specialize in. It lets him fill in the holes when someone is gone, or otherwise incapable of acting. It also - played right - can make them some of the scariest characters ever. That, however, is a topic for another day.
If You Lead, They Will Follow
So, this one just goes back to the human as a social animal point from earlier, but for those wondering how you become leader it is simple. Start leading. Sure, it can help to talk to your group first about doing it, and if there is a party leader already you may want to talk to that player, but in general all you need to do is start leading.
One of the more amusing points I had in a campaign was when, after several sessions of my character being a bit zany, two of the people stopped mid-stride, looked to each other, and then asked the rest of the group "Wait, when did he become the party leader?". My response? "Hey, I just started doing stuff, you all just fell in line."
Try it out in your own game, the next time the GM asks your group a question on where you go and your group starts to discuss it, or tries to plot out the benefits of each way, just make a decision. Tell the GM "I go right", and say it loud enough for the group to hear. People may start talking about planning, at which point you can point out again "Hey, I'm moving this way. Lets go". I can almost guarantee at least some of the party will start to follow (again, assuming you don't have an existing, and trusted, group leader already). Keep up this activity, and in no time you will be the defacto leader. Sure, people will rebel on occasion. Just keep it up though and you will likely get the job.
Stats, Stats, Stats
As a generalist you really need to be careful with your stats. You can't really afford a dump stat, and if you have to have one, then you need to pick an aspect that your team is already particularly strong in. For stats to favor, charisma/social is a good one, as it will help with the talking parts of leadership and many systems use those stats for command. Whatever stat is used for tactics is also a good one to have, so your character can back up the plans he makes with dice rolls.
Aside from this though, stats aren't as important in playing a leader as they can be with other characters. A leader is more about how you play it, then what you have to play with. So, get that brain going, and come up with some crazy plans to handle things.
Know Your Team
Perhaps the most important thing for a leader is to know your team. Know what they can do, how they can function, and what they can handle. Be aware of their strengths and weaknesses. This will help you employ them better in the game, and give everyone a better chance of coming through things a live.
Acting will get you the role, but showing that you know what you are doing and know how to effectively use the rest of the group will let you stay in the position for a much longer time. It will also help when you need to delegate jobs to people. Afterall, you don't want to accidentally assign the illiterate character to search the library for clues, now do you?