20 Leadership Qualities

This tool defines the 20 qualities of leadership that researchers have identified as common to virtually all organizations. It may be used to determine the leadership qualities people revere most within the organization. It can also be used to aid an individual leader gauge his or her own leadership skills.

Suggested Exercise: A manager can get a group together and ask them to select 7 qualities (from the list above) that they desire most in a leader. Then total the responses and initiate a discussion about their selection. Ask: “In what ways do I meet your expectations, and where do I fall short?

_____ Ambitious (aspiring, hard-working, striving)
_____ Broad-minded (open-minded, flexible, receptive, tolerant)
_____ Caring (appreciative, compassionate, concerned, loving, nurturing)
_____ Competent (capable, proficient, effective, efficient, professional)
_____ Cooperative (collaborative, team player, responsive)
_____ Courageous (bold, daring, fearless, gutsy)
_____ Dependable (reliable, conscientious, responsible)
_____ Determined (dedicated, resolute, persistent, purposeful)
_____ Fair-minded (just, unprejudiced, objective, forgiving, willing to pardon others)
_____ Forward-looking (visionary, foresighted, concerned about the future, sense of direction)
_____ Honest (truthful, has integrity, trustworthy, has character)
_____ Imaginative (creative, innovative, curious)
_____ Independent (self-reliant, self-sufficient, self-confident)
_____ Inspiring (uplifting, enthusiastic, energetic, humorous, cheerful)
_____ Intelligent (bright, thoughtful, intellectual, reflective, logical)
_____ Loyal (faithful, dutiful, unswerving in allegiance, devoted)
_____ Mature (experienced, wise, has depth)
_____ Self-controlled (restrained, self-disciplined)
_____ Straightforward (direct, candid, forthright)
_____ Supportive (helpful, offers assistance, comforting)

Picture someone you think of as a great leader. It is possible you already work with them. It may be someone you’ve read about or seen on TV. What are the qualities that make him or her a great leader? What first comes to your mind? Courage? Vision? Wisdom? Experience? What sets them apart?

Admit it, the question is difficult to answer. More difficult than it should be. One reason is that leadership is a highly complex activity, so complex that we have difficulty comprehending it. Our minds are hard-wired to think linearly. A before B, then comes C. That’s easy to comprehend. But as the writer Peter Senge points out, our minds are not naturally fashioned to understanding dynamic complexity. And if anything embodies dynamic complexity, it’s the process of leading.

A second reason is that we assume a good leader will always make good decisions. We go about our daily lives, catching snippets of reality shows and news headlines (“Another CEO was fired today”) and homespun wisdom (“All we need is someone with a grain of sense to lead this country.”) We expect our leaders to be flawless. We forget that they are human.

A third reason is more humbling. Psychologists have demonstrated through experiment that human beings are rather sheepish in the way we follow our leaders. If Person A is our leader, we don’t challenge his decisions. Instead, we do what A says, trusting him to do a good job. We’re hardwired for this kind of blind obedience because it conferred an evolutionary advantage on early human beings. When told to attack a woolly mammoth, people went along and got the job done no questions asked (even if a few lost their lives in the process!). Why? Because the killing of a woolly mammoth was beneficial for the whole tribe.

So what if A proves not to be a very good leader? The evidence suggests that we wait too long before we do anything. The majority of humans still faithfully follow until the evidence of incompetence is overwhelming. By then, the damage has been done.

Given these plentiful reasons of why we can’t tell a great leader from a fair one, how will we ever get it right? What can save us from being perpetually deceived? What is the way out of this leadership paradox? The answer is that we all need to agree on what good leaders actually do. We need a clear roadmap – one that’s simple enough to understand, yet complex enough to capture all of leadership’s dimensions. If we endorse on such a roadmap, then we can exhibit much more consideration and intelligence in our choice of leaders. The breakthrough leadership book, Leading at Light Speed, aims to provide this roadmap.

Improve Your Leadership Skills

To speak with a leadership coach about how LRI can help you develop your leadership skills and implement the best practices of high-performing organizations, call (916) 325-1190 or email info@leadingresources.com.