Characteristics of Admired Leaders

Alex Pollock
July 10, 2019
Corporate leadership
Excuse me — do you have a moment? Thanks for your time. I have a question I'd appreciate your thoughts on. What are the seven qualities that you most look for in a leader, someone whose direction you would willingly follow?

I was challenged by the essence of this question in 1987 by James Kouzes and Barry Posner in their book "The Leadership Challenge." When I noticed recently that the sixth edition of this book had been released in 2017, I was excited to learn how the responses to this question had changed over three decades. I read that they hadn't changed much at all. For the majority of people in the 13 countries surveyed, to follow someone willingly they want a leader who they believe is Honest, Competent, Inspiring, and Forward-Looking. I felt some comfort that with all the changes that occurred in organizational life over these 30 years, including the promises of "Corporate Re-Engineering," little had changed in how to best engage and uplift our human spirit. I found these additional insights valuable:
  • Honest: This quality is selected more than any other leadership characteristic. People want evidence that a person is worthy of their trust; in other words, lives consistently by a clear set of values, ethics and standards.
  • Competent: A proven track record inspires a confidence that the leader is capable to guide and therefore trusted enough to be willingly followed.
  • Inspiring: People expect our leaders to be passionate, energetic, uplifters of the human spirit. Leaders encourage the heart.
  • Forward-Looking: If they expect others to follow, leaders must know where they are going and can paint in broad strokes a picture of a compelling destination.
Did your listing of seven qualities include the four listed above? If you included qualities like Intelligent, Fair-Minded, Courageous, or Cooperative, it's interesting to note that each of these fell far short of the top four in the Kouzes/Posner survey. In addition to these qualities being core to effective leadership, it seems to me that broadening our effectiveness in these areas make us better colleagues, better friends, better companions, and more attractive people.

About the Author

Alex Pollock
Alex Pollock has been studying leadership effectiveness for more than 30 years. A former leader in environment, health and safety, and public affairs at The Dow Chemical Co., he learned that we all have leadership roles to play. He enjoys discussing new ideas and sharing practical ways we can all become better leaders.

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