7 Essential Attributes for Picking Good LeadersWe complain about our leaders. So we eventually get rid of them and we move on to the next one with the hope that it will be different this time. But it’s not. And we’re back where we started.
Jeffrey Cohn and Jay Moran ask Why Are We Bad at Picking Good Leaders? “For starters,” they write, “because selecting the right people can be very, very, hard.” It’s easy to say that if we had better choices, we would pick better leaders. But that means that we are promoting the wrong people through the system. “If the only candidates with experience are simultaneously not qualified to lead, how did they get in the running for leadership positions?” Good question.
To me, it’s obvious we are looking for the wrong things in our leaders and the right things are difficult to judge. Often the things that first attract us to a leader are not the attributes that make a good leader in the long term. “The truth is that most of us like a little bit of rock star in our leaders. We respond to their magnetism, their celebrity.” Charisma and smooth talk just aren’t enough.
From their work in succession planning and executive assessments, they have isolated seven leadership attributes that come up again and again, that provide the key to leadership success. These attributes they caution, must be viewed as a whole, because if you take even one away, you end up with someone entirely different. “If any one of these attributes is missing, a person who is called on to lead will eventually fail.”
These seven are the basic building blocks of a leader and other aspects of leadership flow from them. For example, innovation “requires the imagination to conceive of a new vision, the judgment to ensure this vision is practical and can be implemented, the empathy to anticipate how others will react to the new idea and to garner their support, and the courage to stick with a plan despite inevitable bumps in the road.” (They note that because innovation draws on so many of the seven attributes it is a rare quality among many leaders.) They are:
- Integrity. “Integrity is the fundamental leadership attribute….Integrity is the fundamental attribute that keeps everything else secure.” Without integrity, things break down fast. Kroger CEO Dave Dillon remarked, “Integrity allows you to assume important characteristics about how things work.” As a result it fosters trust which leads to higher productivity. (See more on this on Facebook)
- Empathy. Defined as a fundamental ability to tune in to others, it “is critical for leadership for many reasons. Combined with integrity, it drives trust. It gives followers a sense that their interests are being looked after, and this creates positive energy. Followers who sense that a leader appreciates them are motivated to carry out their duties in a more committed way.”
- Emotional Intelligence. This is self-mastery or the ability to “perceive, control, and improve the connection between what we feel and the way we act.” It’s about self-awareness. Do I know myself? Can I control myself? Do I look for ways to improve?
- Vision. A frequently abused term, vision starts with imagination and an inquisitive mind. “Visionary leaders are good storytellers who are capable of weaving together interesting connections.” Vision provides direction.
- Judgment. Good judgment is good decision making. “This sounds simple enough, but the origins of how and why people make the decisions they do are actually quite complex.” It’s the ability to zero in on what’s important, see the whole chessboard, and take decisive action.
- Courage. There is always conflict. “Leadership means being on the front line of those conflicts. It means facing conflicts, mediating and shaping them, sometimes at the risk of great personal cost or freedom.” How often does a fear of standing out inhibit your ability to do the right thing?
- Passion. A leader’s passion or drive is important because it creates positive energy. “They attract followers and act as catalysts for the formation of highly motivated teams.” High energy and enthusiasm are signs of passion but the trick is to determine where that fire comes from and is the leader in it just for themselves. There is a balance to be maintained with the other six attributes.