Last week we looked at different leaderships styles ranging from the dictator like autocrat to the empowering emotionally intelligent leader. This week we dive into the more elusive concept of leadership qualities. What qualities does a workforce look for in a leader and are these different leadership qualities from those desired by the shareholders or directors of an organisation?

When I was working in the financial markets and being very successful at it, I observed a certain cut throat quality of leadership among some of my competitors. They were very target orientated so one of the strongest leadership qualities was being goal driven. A recent survey among 2,000 CEO’s and HR professionals on desirable leadership qualities conducted by the global research and advisory firm Universum discovered a discrepancy between CEO’s and HR professionals on the most desirable leadership qualities. However, overall, the quality of empowerment came out top. More CEO’s than HR professionals, however, desired their leaders to be goal driven. The summary of these desirable leadership qualities is below:

leadership qualities graphic


These leadership qualities are only a snapshot from a recruitment perspective. Looking at what companies and employees say about their leaders we can see that the following five leadership qualities are agreed upon by most.

Leadership Quality 1

Empowers employees – essentially a good leader gets their workforce motivated and achieving but trusts them to get on with doing the job themselves. This quality of empowerment is summed up well by the Lao Tzu quote below

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.

Lao Tzu

Leadership quality 2

Being goal orientated. Most companies have targets set, yearly, quarterly, monthly. A leader who ignores targets shows lack of accountability and a disregard for the company’s success. Being goal orientated involves being able to plan, see clearly the way ahead and keep pushing the company in the right direction. As a leadership quality it is usually shown by keeping an “eye on the prize” and making sure that the team knows what the end result should be. When I was campaigning for rail safety I was determined that things would change post Ladbroke Grove, that the casual attitude pervading the rail companies would shift to one of accountability and responsibility.

Leadership quality 3

Integrity is a crucial leadership quality and some would say that the public’s apathy at voting time is down to a perceived lack of integrity among politicians. If you cannot trust the person who is your boss then you are unlikely to work well for them. Trust takes time to be earned but can be lost in the briefest of moments. Those leaders without integrity may thrive for a while as they cut through the ethical processes of an organisation but ultimately they will crash and burn, taking many down with them who had no hand in the decisions they made.

Leadership quality 4Leadership qualities v2

Having vision. Now this is a tricky one of the leadership qualities because the idea of vision, innovation and creativity means different things to different people. There is no doubt that great leaders can see what others cannot. They seem to have a crystal ball and are able to think out of the box. However, as leadership qualities go, it is not something everyone is capable of, but that does not mean they are bad leaders. It is also very hard to measure vision and is not an easy tick box in performance appraisal.

Leadership quality 5

Focus – the best leaders have focus, are not distracted by others negativity and clearly know the direction they are going. Focus requires underlying planning skills and a certainty about the company objectives. It also means a certain trust of those below you in the leadership ladder. You cannot be focused if you are firefighting or second guessing other’s decisions.

In summary, leadership qualities may have different names but they are evidenced by the performance of the team, not just the leader. Many studies on leadership qualities also include an additional, unexpected quality- that of humility. This is not a usual corporate term and is unlikely to appear in any appraisal or recruitment process. Why is being humble an important trait of good leadership? There is a good quote that explains this.

“It is said that it is far more difficult to hold and maintain leadership (liberty) than it is to attain it. Success is a ruthless competitor for it flatters and nourishes our weaknesses and lulls us into complacency. We bask in the sunshine of accomplishment and lose the spirit of humility which helps us visualize all the factors which have contributed to our success. We are apt to forget that we are only one of a team, that in unity there is strength and that we are strong only as long as each unit in our organization functions with precision.”

— Samuel Tilden

Different leadership qualities are required at different times in any organisation but in the end, a leader is only as good as the team they lead.

Leadership qualities v2.2

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