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The most important leadership attribute?

October 26, 2016
Borderless Leadership

“Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.” – Dr Albert Schweitzer.

It’s one of those classic, timeless management questions: What are the attributes of a good leader?

This subject was explored last month in a leadership survey from Robert Half examining the perceptions of two different groups: “workers” and “CFOs.” Not surprisingly, there were substantive differences in their responses, but also a key similarity.

Let’s start with the similarity. Both groups (workers and CFOs) were asked the question: “Which of these are the most important attributes in a corporate leader?”

Eight leadership attributes were listed: Accessibility, Collaborative Mindset, Competitiveness, Decisiveness, Fairness, Integrity, Strategic Mindset, and Transparency.

The key similarity? Both groups placed Integrity at the top of the list. Seventy-five percent of workers had it there, as did 46% of CFOs.

Both groups also had Fairness as the second-highest quality. Fifty-eight percent of workers had it there, as did 45% of CFOs.

After that, the order of importance differed between the groups. For example, 33% of CFOs considered Transparency a most important attribute, while only 25% of workers placed it there. (I found this surprising, as employees usually view management transparency as a critically important quality – and are disturbed when not treated in a transparent manner.)

Another sizable difference involved how the two groups viewed Competitiveness. Thirty percent of CFOs considered it a most important attribute, while only 10% of workers did. (This I felt was entirely expected, reflecting an understandably more competitive C-suite mindset.)

One other interesting breakdown of data involved an age difference regarding perceptions of Fairness. While 72% of those aged 55 and above considered it a most important attribute, among those aged 18 to 34 the figure dropped to 44%.

Setting The Right Example

But at the end of the day, this day belonged to Integrity. Perhaps this isn’t surprising, but a validation of something positive is never a bad thing. It’s also a timely reminder of why the “unfavorable” ratings of our two major presidential candidates are continually in the stratosphere – as both candidates are widely perceived as having serious shortcomings in this regard: truthfulness issues, behavioral issues, character issues, etc.

Ideally we like our leaders to be individuals of good character and integrity, a simple enough bar that too often isn’t reached.

The survey’s common sense advice for managers? They call it a “ takeaway managers can act on immediately.” The counsel: “Set the right example. In addition to modeling appropriate behavior, address performance issues quickly, which will show you do not let problems fester.”

Indeed, setting the right management example takes no special talent but goes a long way toward gaining employee trust and loyalty.

The estimable Dr. Schweitzer had it right, and this study does too.

Victor Lipman heads Howling Wolf Management Training and is author of The Type B Manager.

Source: Forbes

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