What are the traits of a leader you’d be inspired to follow?
I decided to answer that question for myself as a self-check for the traits I want to cultivate in my own life. In no particular order, here are seven traits I’ve seen in others that inspire me to follow their lead:
- Clear sense of purpose. I’m drawn to those who know what they’re about and have a clear sense of personal and organizational mission. So many in leadership positions are just going through the motions. They’re in their roles for the status or the pay; not for the cause. Their self-promotion does not inspire me. A cause greater than the sum of the individuals pursing it does.
- Unwavering regard for people. We’ve all been around taxing people; some are inescapably part of our work team. It’s easy to call them idiots or to ignore their ideas. Inspiring leaders resist that temptation. While they may stir debate about ideas, they don’t stir antagonism against people. I once met with a CEO who told me he thought his whole team was worthless. I left our meeting certain not to follow his denigrating lead. His focus was about his own value; not those of the team.
- Savvy sense of when to decide. When it comes to decision making, leaders tend to stratify at two polarities. The ready-fire-aim types take pride in moving fast and picking up the pieces later. The navel gazers mull over a decision endlessly, asking for more and more information, often only pulling the trigger when no other options remain. The truly inspiring leaders, in my experience, are those who know when to “think and act quickly and when to think and act slowly,” what Robert Sternberg describes as the essence of intelligence. You can spot them because they ask great questions; those that get to the essence of the decision, not just the dressing of specifications.
- Values learning. One of the lessons I learned from Mom and Dad was that grades are not as important as education. Inspiring leaders know that too. It’s not that they don’t value achieving objectives, but they place a premium on the learning the comes from the pursuit, regardless of the outcome. In the vernacular of Carol Dweck, they have a growth mindset. Their primary concern is with improving, not proving.
- Genuinely celebrates. Our what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business culture makes true celebration rare. Uninspiring leaders push themselves and their teams from one fire-drill to the next, rarely pausing to reflect on the progress made by the team. What celebration does occur comes off forced, even obligatory; “Enjoy it now, ’cause it won’t last long.” Inspiring leaders celebrate not just occasionally, but along the way, even mixing in a little laughter to make today’s burdens easier to carry.
- Authentic integrity. Those two words should be redundant but I’ve seen so many leaders who project integrity but lack authenticity. They know integrity-speak but their actions are inconsistent. Integrity is a stress trait. It reveals itself best under adversity and leaders who don’t authentically possess it are soon discovered; often by others before they are aware of it themselves.
- Develop others. Inspiring leaders stand out because they take a genuine interest in others. They view their position of influence as a privilege, not a right, and they steward it to develop others, not advance themselves. They are careful not to make themselves the “primary reality people worry about,” as Jim Collins put it in Good to Great.
Composite those traits in a leader and I’ll follow. How about you?
What are some of the traits you’ve found inspiring in leaders?