The Attributes of a Leader

There have been numerous investigations of the attributes of a leader. Indeed, this has been the main thrust of recent analyses of the leader and how he or she behaves. In broad terms, these explorations have taken two interrelated tacks. One has been to examine known leaders and to see how they tend to behave and what their personal characteristics are or have been. The other has looked at the demands placed on the leader, functioning in all domains (i.e., industry, government, academia).

In a survey of more than two dozen sources [5.9], some of the documented leadership investigations that have defined requisite leadership attributes have been summarized. The results are listed in Exhibit 5.3, with the order going from most to least important.

Exhibit 5.3: Results of Survey of Leadership Attributes

Critical Attributes

1. Empowering, supporting, motivating, trusting

2. Having a vision, long-term viewpoint

3. Cooperating, sharing, team playing, and team building

4. Renewing, learning, growing, educating

Extremely Important Attributes

5. Being communicative

6. Having culture and values, serving as a role model

7. Being productive, efficient, determined

Significant Attributes

8. Demonstrating time management, prioritization

9. Being action-oriented

10. Making a contribution, commitment, legacy

11. Being innovative, imaginative

12. Having integrity, morality, humanity

13. Demonstrating skill, knowledge, substance

The attributes listed in the top seven all had different scores with a natural breakpoint between numbers 4 and 5. The most critical attribute, from the exhibit, was outer-directed and dealt with empowering, supporting, motivating, and trusting others. The issue of having a vision, so dominant in the news, scored number 2. The third most critical attribute was cooperating, sharing, team building, and team playing. This is distinctly opposite to some of the competitive behavior that we see in enterprises today, much of which is destructive and leads to burnout. Also, we note that such a leader is not only able to build a team, but can function easily as part of someone else's team (if that someone else is also a leader). Rounding out the critical attributes is that of renewing, learning, growing, and educating. Such a leader is dedicated to individual as well as corporate growth, believing that without a constant renewal process, the organization will stagnate and ultimately fail.

In the second category of extremely important attributes, the list is led by the communicative leader. We stressed the importance of this characteristic and have more to say about it as well in the next chapter. Inculcating a culture and value system is next on the list. Many organizations take on the mantle of the culture supported by a strong leader (e.g., Tom Watson at IBM, Henry Ford at Ford Motor Company, Bill Gates at Microsoft). The culture is usually reflected in the personal behavior of the leader serving as a role model. Finally, and completing this category, the leader is productive, efficient, and determined. Many leaders, through their constant doggedness and determination, are able to achieve their desired results for themselves as well as their organizations. They do not allow themselves to be stopped by obstacles and initial setbacks.

There are six attributes in the significant category. Having the ability to prioritize and manage their time heads this list. Next, the leader is action-oriented, preferring to move ahead even when it may be an errant direction. Such a leader is able to make mistakes, learn from them, and retrace steps, if necessary. Next, the leader has a sense of the contribution that all are making to the overall well-being of the organization. Such a leader is committed to the enterprise and wishes to leave a legacy and mark on the organization. The leader is also innovative and imaginative and is able to try new modes of behavior, even if he or she is not the originator of the new idea. Number 12 on the list is having a definitive and positive sense of integrity, morality, and humanity. Many despotic ''leaders,'' especially those who have led their countries down destructive paths for themselves and others, would fail this test of leadership. Finally, and curiously last on the list of thirteen, the leader has the skills, knowledge, and substance in the domain of the enterprise, whether it be business, engineering, politics, or some other arena.

Another more recent exploration by this author [5.10] of the attributes of leaders examined the writings of twenty-four investigators of this topic. The overall conclusion was the set of five attributes listed below as the most significant.

Exhibit 5.4 Additional Selected Attributes of Leaders [5.10]

• Practical visionary

• Inclusive communicator

• Positive doer

• Renewing facilitator

• Principled integrator

The practical visionary is able to focus upon distant goals, but does not have his or her head in the clouds. The inclusive communicator has the critical skill of being able to communicate, and makes sure that everyone is and feels part of the team. The positive doer maintains a positive attitude in the face of all kinds of obstacles, and keeps moving forward, accomplishing real things in the real world. The renewing facilitator helps other members of the team reach their goals, crossing bridges as necessary from the old to the new. Finally, the principled integrator is able to synthesize important pieces to contruct the whole, maintaining an ethical perspective from beginning to end.

The reader with a further interest in the attributes of a leader can refer especially to the two sources cited in this section [5.9, 5.10] as well as to other significant sources [5.11, 5.12, 5.13, 5.14, 5.15].

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