What Are Your Leadership Attributes?

Business management books often dedicate a chapter on catinmirrorthe attributes of successful leaders to assist the reader to set behavior goals to emulate. In many cases, pro-athletes are used as role models and personal experiences from their competitive events to demonstrate each attribute. While good examples, if you are on the golf course or tennis court, it is questionable how readily the reader is able to apply them in the business context that they work in.

The following list introduces five attributes that I have observed were key to the success of business leaders that I have worked with.

  • Honesty and Integrity
  • Mental Toughness
  • Stubbornness
  • Thoughtfulness
  • Maturity

Honesty and Integrity
Honesty and integrity is core to the ability of a leader to establish and sustain trust with an employee, a peer, a supplier, or customer. It is the corner stone of all other business values and leadership.

This can be a tough one to carry out since it requires you to stand firm and not compromise your principles in trying situations. You may be faced with sacrificing financial performance in order to remove bad or tainted product from the market place in order to restore your brand and more importantly – protect the customer.

A terrific example of this is Johnson & Johnson in 1982 when their products were tampered with on the shelf and they quickly removed $100M worth of product from store shelves (see Ethics: The Foundation of Sound Leadership?). The opposite example is how GM withheld the seriousness of defective ignition switches (Fortune.com), rejected 91% of death and injury claims related to the problem involving 3.4 million cars that took 10 years before a recall was issued.

Great leaders never compromise their honesty and integrity by cheating, playing with the numbers, disguising problems and blaming others. The bottom line is that they know that they need to see that the right thing is done when it’s the right thing do, even when it is unpopular. Leaders can abuse their responsibility and focus on short-term business performance by taking short cuts and “cooking the books” (i.e. Enron), but ultimately the truth will be revealed resulting in significant consequences to the company and responsible individuals.

Mental Toughness
We see many examples of mental toughness in sports.

  • The golfer maintaining his composure when he has to hit from a bad lie then hits the ball onto the green near the cup.
  • The pro-football quarterback leading his team, down several touchdowns, to victory in the 4th quarter without loosing his focus.

Similar examples occur in business when the leader is blind sided by a business condition, which was unexpected, but remains flexible and non-defensive. This demeanor motivates those around him with his steady bearing in dealing with the crisis.

Pressure can also challenge a leader when they are trying to balance the many factors that are part of running a company. They will resort to innovative methods to relieve the pressure and seek fresh ways out of the crisis at hand.

A mentally tough leader must also demonstrate stamina in the face of recurring, daunting and discouraging business issues. The organization relies upon the leader to direct them. A leader who is worn out from the frantic pace will not lead and motivate effectively. They need to be visible and accessible and a source of energy that will encourage those around him to achieve what appears to be the impossible.

Stubbornness can be mistaken as a “faulty” quality. If the leader uses their stubbornness properly it can be a real asset. Stubborn leaders know what they want and what they don’t want. This may be a factor in sticking to your true values. While you allow others to voice their opinions, they will fail to move you.

Those who some say are too decisive may also be described as stubborn because they know what they want, tend to be more decisive. This can offend some passive personalities.

Stubborn people can also be more intuitive resulting in actions and direction that may seem irrational to others. They can see ahead, beyond those working with them, but they stay the course unbridled from outside opinions.

Perseverance is a characteristic of stubborn people, as they tend to not give up on their dream or vision. A stubborn person, who perseveres and ignores naysayers, overcomes obstacles, absorbs adversity but still makes progress toward their dream, can take their business a long way.

Extending a caring and thoughtful attitude towards those around you will result in significant rewards. A Gallup Organization study shows that most workers rate having a caring boss even higher than they value money or fringe benefits.

This is counter to the pressure on leaders today to multi-task, use modern devices to stay in touch and absorb information from many sources. The tendency is for these leaders to become less thoughtful and caring. This is even worse when leaders insist that people respond to e-mail instantly. The result is a decrease in interpersonal communication, which creates an impersonal and cold atmosphere, verses a warm and caring environment where person-to-person interaction is the norm and where there are opportunities to be thoughtful.

If you have developed a “task driven” attitude to your work you are probably in need of assistance to be thoughtful. Here are some measures you can take to be more caring and thoughtful.

  1. MBWA (Managed By Walking Around) – Making your self accessible to those you work with and engaging in casual conversations about them (not you) will provide opportunities to be aware of needs in their lives (business or personal) that a simple action on your part can have great impact.
  2. Personal Communication – Occasionally send a personal note (written in your own hand not e-mail) of appreciation to someone recognizing something that they have done in their business or in their personal life.
  3. Follow Up – Be aware of conversations and encounters where you commit to an action. Do not rely on the other person to follow up with you. Keep a list of commitments you have made and independently follow up, on or before they expect feedback, with the other person as to the outcome of the commitment.
  4. Informal Meetings – Schedule individual time with members of your staff to get to know them better. Take the initiative to learn about them and in turn they will become more comfortable around you and learn more about you.

Maturity does not come with age but with the behavior you exhibit. As a leader you are called upon to make decisions, motivate people, and develop and attract the right people into your organization. The behavior that you exhibit will determine how mature you are. Mature behavior can include the following:

  • Humility,
  • Belief in yourself,
  • Gratitude,
  • Empowering others,
  • Able to handle ambiguity and uncertainty,
  • Honesty, and loyalty.

Bottom line, mature behavior is stepping forward and being the adult in the room. Maturity is not an ego play; in fact, mature leaders know to put their ego aside. They have learned to recognize what they do not know and seek others who can give them the right counsel and advice with which to steer the company in the right direction.

Mature leaders do not look around to find whom to blame when things go wrong, but step forward and take responsibility. Mature leaders take full responsibility for their role, avoid making accusations, to think without reacting, value principles over feelings, and have a high capacity for emotional self-regulation (may be described as being unflappable under pressure).

Mature leaders reduce helplessness and promote confidence by coaching others to take responsibility for thinking the problem through and deciding on a course of action. Organizations and groups grow competence and confidence when they correct a problem in a positive and constructive way in response to a crisis.

Mature leaders are also very self-aware of their impact on others and the organization. They are willing to confront their own personal actions with others and how they allow events to affect them emotionally. The objective of self-awareness is to determine if their behavior is consistent with their beliefs.

Question: Do you have to perfect all five attributes or just one or two to be a successful leader?

If you are a true leader you will not be satisfied with only developing one or two of these attributes. You will recognize that at any given time, when you least expect it, you will be called upon to rely on one of the behavior attributes in order to successfully deal with a business situation.

Reach out to board members, a mentor or engage a coach to work on those areas that need improvement. Examples of leaders who exemplify the behaviors above did not necessarily come by them naturally. In many instances, they have been influenced by others, have adopted behaviors of leaders they aspired to emulate, and committed to learn from their mistakes.

As a leader, you will intentionally exercise yourself in these areas to examine your ability to use the correct behavior under challenging conditions. It is under pressure when the true test of a leader occurs.

Your adoption and mastery of integrating these attributes into your native behavior will be the foundation of your success.


Other Resources:
Stubbornness Is . . .A Good Thing?
Entrepreneurs Whose Perseverance Will Inspire You
Management: The Wisdom of Thoughtfulness
Thoughtfulness Always Counts
Multitasking Makes Managers Thoughtful
Leadership Maturity & Your Ultimate Destiny
Leaders: Develop Emotional Maturity to Foster Excellence



  1. DIANA AMOAKO says

    great piece for Introspecting and supporting others on their leadership development journey

  2. Thank you for your comment Diana!

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