Characteristics of great leaders

One of my favourite exercises in leadership workshops with people from R&D is to ask them to take a few moments to recall the best leader with whom or for whom they ever worked and think about what it is that makes this person special. For those who have no such candidate, I suggest they recall the worst person they’ve ever worked for, think about what makes that person’s leadership so special, and turn those characteristics around 180°. This helps them to identify what tehy were missing in that person’s leadership. The exercise elicits a lot of warm smiles and great data. Over the years I’ve collected descriptors from a few hundred people.

The wordle at the top of this post shows the characteristics that people name; the larger the word, the more often it is named. These characteristics illustrate how important relationship skills are for leaders.

The characteristics that your people look for in you are also in this collection. Now, before you get depressed, please remember that this is a composite picture – many people describing many leaders. There’s no need to try and measure yourself against this collection and exhibit all of these qualities. However, it’s worthwhile to take a moment to think about how many of these qualities you already exhibit and which you might want to cultivate. This will help you to be a leader others want to follow.

I’ll be updating this wordle from time-to-time. So, if you’re surprised by the importance attached to any of these qualities, if something important for you is missing, or you’d just like to share what makes your best leader special, please leave a comment below.

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