In a recent leadership group meeting, I was prompted to think a bit more about common leadership traits. I have settled on what I believe to be common leadership traits based on the great leaders I know personally. And of course, I added a few leaders about whom I’ve read but who I do not know personally. I came up with three consistent traits.
Well, I’d prefer that the subtitle “Truth” be written with a small “t” rather than a capital “T.” That is because leaders recognize there isn’t only one truth. There are many truths depending on the situation, experience, and the point of view. Leaders have an insatiable curiosity. They want to find out what is so. Many follow the “What’s so? So what? Now what?” model of inquiry.
Leaders make sure their teams always check their beliefs and assumptions. They do not fall prey to dogma, group think or status quo. No roast beef theory for them! They don’t take the easy way out.
Compassion is usually defined as “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate that distress.” In the business world, we may refer to this trait as Emotional Intelligence Quotient (EiQ or EQ). It is essential that a leader show how much she cares about people as fellow human beings, not just using them to get to a goal.
Compassion is not a weakness any more than transparency or vulnerability is a weakness. It takes a confident person to show compassion for their fellow travelers, and a leader is usually a strong, vulnerable, and compassionate person.
A leader takes responsibility for her actions and her team’s results. And a leader makes sure that each of his peers and team members takes responsibility for his actions. Besides taking responsibility, a leader insists on holding herself, her teammates, and her peers accountable for their actions.
The culture a leader builds is critical to team performance. A culture that seeks to find truth compassionately and insists that people take responsibility for their actions must be a culture of high trust. It must also be a culture in which there are clearly understood common values.
A culture that combines leadership focused on truth, compassion, and responsibility will attract and retain the highly trained knowledge workers we all need to have on board.
I believe it is worth our time to think about our leadership traits. Are we willing to challenge our own beliefs about how the world works, what employees need, business markets, customer needs, and our business model? Are the views and opinions we hold still true today, or have things changed?
Further, have we built a business culture where everyone matters or have we allowed some of our employees to be marginalized? Do we tolerate team members violating our values or do we insist on everyone living the values to the best of their abilities?
And, have we allowed functional silos to form in our organizations or have we insisted that all business functions work as a cohesive team across functional lines? Are people encouraged to take responsibility or are employees allowed to “hide” and let others do the work?
So many questions and so little time! Yet, if we do not answer these questions and resolve the issues the answers uncover, we will be leading an organization that is not optimized.