The Most Important Leadership Attribute
Why piddle around with insignificance? Choose the most important leadership attributes to develop.
Decisive or positive:
In one poll, the votes are evenly divided between decisiveness and positivity. It’s a difficult choice.
You might be positive, but what’s the point if you can’t make a decision. On the other hand, you might be decisive, but if you’re negative, the decision won’t take you very far.
Between decisiveness and positivity, I choose positivity.
I’m running a poll on twitter.
Passion is barely edging out positivity and decisiveness. But one respondent wrote that she would take passion off the list saying, the best thing she could say about the worst leaders she’s had is they were passionate.
Between passion, curiosity, positivity, and decisiveness, I choose curiosity.
10 leadership attributes:
Maya Angelou votes for courage:
“You can be kind and true and fair and generous and just, and even merciful, occasionally,” Angelou said. “But to be that thing time after time, you have to really have courage.” (Cornell Chronicle)
The ancients believed in four core virtues:
- Wisdom. The ability to discern the appropriate course of action to be taken in a given situation at the appropriate time. Decisiveness requires wisdom.
- Moderation. Tempering appetites.
- Courage. The ability to overcome fear.
- Morality/justice. Acting for the welfare of the community. (Marcus Aurelius)
What is the most important attribute in Leadership? My vote is for wisdom. What’s your vote?
When choosing how you show up, choose from relevant and important options.
Choose an aspect of wisdom, for example, to guide how you show up today. You might maintain a heightened awareness of the impact of your actions/attitudes on others.
The Most Important Leadership Attribute? New Study has Clear Answer (Forbes)
What do the Stoic Virtues Mean (Donald Robertson)
Dan, in your first list, I join you in choosing curiosity—in part because curiosity also implies humility. I also would choose “purposeful” by which I mean being clear about my personal purpose or mission and acting with integrity because of that clarity.
Thanks Ken. It’s interesting to think about how one attribute connects to another.
You might begin with humility and find listening, empathy, and curiosity.
The interconnections make the conversation interesting. I like curiosity because it seems to connect to several important things; listening, learning, interest in others, solutions, decision-making, and wisdom, for example.
True leaders don’t have to make such lists. They are leaders because others have made a list and found many or all of the traits in the person they want to follow.
Thanks Tim. The idea that leaders are above development seems inconsistent with the qualities necessary to lead.
Development requires focus. That’s where a list is useful.
In any case, thanks for jumping in today, Tim. I appreciate it.
Dan, I like your lists of leadership attributes. They tend to characterize the nature of a leader, whether good or bad. The best leaders I’ve observed have had a selfless focus on important objectives with the ability to generate goal congruence. Their effect is much like coherent laser light focusing energy on a specific target in contrast to diffuse light that tends to dimly illuminate all areas within its reach, Thanks again for another thought-provoking post!
Thanks Paul. Adding the term selfless speaks to me. I suppose humility and generosity are connected with self-less, along with service.
Managing energy is one of the most neglected leadership skills. (I’ll put it in the skill bucket as opposed to the attribute bucker.)
Without decisiveness, there is drift, decline in morale, and lack of direction. Staff members should feel empowered to make decisions for themselves, but they rely on leadership to make the bigger ones that have wider, institutional impact. Decisiveness, or lack thereof, directly impacts any organization’s mission statement and its sense of purpose.
Thanks Sam. Decisiveness answers the problem of too much curiosity. (Thinking of curiosity as one of my favorites.)
Even a bad decision can be useful if it is a learning experience.
I struggle to grasp the concept of a ‘best’ leadership attribute. For me, a great leader is someone who has many, if not most, of the attributes listed above. I don’t think you can say one is better than another one. It is often how they are used in conjunction with each other.
Thanks Bob. In the end, it’s impossible to completely isolate one important attribute from another. Decisiveness without courage or vision doesn’t seem to be useful. Or, decisiveness without wisdom is another problem.
There are some attributes that are more central. Honest, for example seems to be foundational.
My #1 leadership trait is empathy. If a leader doesn’t have empathy, he has likely lost his connection with his team, and probably their trust as well. Being a cold-hearted leader rarely ends well. Without empathy, the team will not believe that the leader has their backs – and he probably doesn’t. Then, you add in the rest of the list. All of the traits are good, and all must have a companion trait to work in conjunction with. No single trait makes a leader good. Empathy without courage means the leader cares for his team while keeping the company from growing. Courage without wisdom will demonstrate a go get-em leader who is reckless, and so on.
Thank you for your continued wisdom, Dan!
Thanks James. Your comment reminds me that Henry Mintizberg espouses the importance of connecting. With that in mind, your insights are essential. You also point to Emotional Intelligence, something many believe to be the most essential attribute of good leaders.
I love this article and have been a fan of your writing for a while but never felt like I had anything to contribute until now. As I read over the responses that you have a received on this I realize that everyone has their own opinion as to what traits are the most important. I think that there are traits that are more important than others, but I think that no real leader has only one positive trait. As you mentioned, what is decisiveness without positivity and vice versa? I realize also, as I look at the list that there are qualities that I’m stronger at than others. The list helps me identify what I can work on. Thanks for your vision!
Thanks Elizabeth. I appreciate you jumping in on this conversation. The idea that leadership is individual helps clarify responsibility and opportunity to bring our best and, as you say, opportunity for development.
I can’t help but think about the situational aspect of leadership attributes. What attributes are most relevant to any given situation. Think of the COVID-19 situation. Perhaps flexibility goes up in importance because of disruption.
Great overview and discussion. Many thanks for inspiring the dialogue.
I’m in the camp that holds inspiration as the singular “leading” attribute
(to DESIRE: creativity, passion, courage, presence);
trust the central functional attribute
(to INFLUENCE: perseverance/persistence, empathy/humility/kindness/generosity, competence/capacity/experience); and
vision being the final kicker attribution
(to MEANING: sagacity/wisdom, temperance/openness/flexibility,
We notice that inspiration at present, influence past and vision to the future are highly situational – constantly in flux (ebbing and flowing).
So what do we need most, what should we look for in the One to lead (of this place, of this time, of these people)?
The one to lead, given already these various attributes, should have an inherent will to INTEGRITY
(where the whole One is greater than the mere sum and alignment of the various attributes).
True leaders do this anyway, whether they have followers or not, whether they are chosen or not. IMHO.
According to Kouzes & Posner, people most desire their leaders to be honest, forward looking, competent, and inspiring, in that order across all sampled cultures. Honesty tops the list. Covey wrote of the “Speed of Trust”. Trust is built by a series of conversations and actions that are congruent with reality, and by sincere apology and restitution when trust is broken, even inadvertently. What we often term “leadership” is domination, not leadership. Liars can have sycophants and can wield power. They cannot lead free people to full engagement.
Great list of qualities, Dan. Resilience also comes to mind as being key. In coaching leaders, those that are able to recover quickly when the tough times come their way seem to navigate well through leadership in general.