For more than a decade, I’ve used the metaphor of an iceberg to talk about leadership – the 10% above the water line represents the skills of the leader and the 90% below represents their character. The Secret, a book I co-authored with Ken Blanchard, outlines what we believe great leaders do – the skills part of the picture. However, the question I have gotten consistently ever since we started using the iceberg illustration is this, “What are the character traits of great leaders?”
On more than one occasion, I've answered the character question by asking, “What are the traits you are trying to instill in your children?” Typical responses would include: dependability, honesty, integrity and hard work. I would say, “That’s what leaders need.” Now that I look back, my answer was incorrect. Dependability, honesty, integrity and hard work are needed by EVERY employee – including the leaders; therefore, none of these are distinctives of leaders.
So the first question I’ve been wrestling with is: Are leaders really different? My answer is yes. Clearly, we all want our leaders to be dependable, honest, show integrity and be hard working, but our organizations demand more from leaders. Therefore, my next question was – How are leaders different?
Here’s a short list of six attributes that I believe you’re more likely to see in leaders than non-leaders. It's not an exhaustive list, but most of the great leaders I’ve known personally, and those I’ve studied, have demonstrated some measure of the following traits.
Optimism – Men and women in leadership are generally optimistic. They see a preferred future and can envision a path to make it a reality – despite the obstacles.
Judgment – The best leaders have the ability to make good decisions – even when the data is incomplete.
Ownership – Great leaders are willing to take responsibility for their actions, the actions of those they lead and the outcomes of their efforts.
Initiative – Good leaders are known for being proactive. They are willing to act – and often, they are the first to act.
Courage – To lead well requires bold decisions, decisive decisions - to stand alone if necessary. To lead well requires courage.
Servanthood - The best leaders are motivated by a heart to serve. They want to serve the organization, their people, their customers and all their stakeholders.
What character traits do you see in the best leaders?