The best leadership traits for you

Never been assessed based on leadership traits 

Never been assessed based on leadership traits
Never been assessed based on leadership traits.

Throughout my corporate life, I was assessed on my results. That is the easiest objective measure possible. Working in Human Resources, well, those objectives can be a little hazy. One organisation, an British bank, in particular, went a step further and factored in employee’s behaviours against the organisation’s core values in their assessment.  

None of the organisations, however, assessed me based on any kind of specified leadership traits. Even for the British bank, I just went about saying and doing what I thought was befitting of an aspiring leader. I did not know what were the best leadership traits that I should have displayed to maximise my chances of being identified as a potential first time leader. 

Defining these leadership traits. Why does it matter? 

Defining these leadership traits. Why does it matter?
Defining these leadership traits. Why does it matter? 

I would dare say that the large majority of individual contributors / aspiring leaders who have not officially led others in a team before, are gunning for that promotion to be a first time leader. The challenge that I, and I believe many have had, was that I thought doing my job well, being a productive member of project teams or task force was enough to stand out and be recognised as a potential first time leader. 

Wrong. 

I was being myself, but according to one manager, I was not displaying specific aspects of myself that aligned to the perception of what a successful first time leader should be for the organisation. To make things trickier, I realised I did not truly understand leadership at all. I thought I did. There might be many leadership traits identified by leadership scholars and academics, but I had no idea which ones mattered to me and to the organisation when it came to deciding who was worthy of a promotion.  

If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it – Peter Drucker

If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it – Peter Drucker
If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it – Peter Drucker 

A lot of effort is put into measuring performance (number of widgets made, length of customer interaction, etc). Yet how often do we see an effort by an organisation to measure leadership potential for aspiring and first time leaders?  

Not many. Probably limited to large global organisations who can afford to have dedicated employees focused on leadership development. 

I have interviewed leaders from over 190 organisations, and I will say, with a high degree of certainty, that the assessment of potential first time leaders among the employee base is highly dependent on the discretion of the manager involved. If the manager is a true leader with deep understanding of the science and art, then the assessment will be vigorous. If not, then we get first time leaders who are found lacking in their leadership. 

This results in a lack of any degree of consistency from manager to managers across an organisation on how an employee is assessed for their first time leadership potential. The organisation might start to question what sort of returns it is getting from its leadership development investments.  

It does not have to be this way for an organisation’s first time leaders. The solution is deciding on what are the best leadership traits for its first time leaders. 

What are the best leadership traits for an organisation’s first time leaders? 

Best leadership traits
What are the best leadership traits for an organisation’s first time leaders? 

One could argue that it really depends because there are hundreds of traits identified by scholars and academics. I would argue, instead, that the first point of anchoring this list down to something manageable is to look at the organisation’s core values. After all, the core values guide how employees should conduct themselves at work, and leaders at any level should exemplify that conduct. 

Although, even with the core values as an anchor to reduce the number of possibility traits down to something manageable, there still leaves this big question of interpretation of meaning for each possible trait. For example, some would argue that Responsibility is an important trait, others might focus more on Accountability, with others still a proponent of Ownership. All three can be rather similar to the uninformed. 

We experienced this when interviewing leaders from all over the world expressing different traits that are important for them. The advantage we had was that with 220 interviews, we had enough of a sample size to identify trends and pattens in the traits that were mentioned. That allows us to debate on the meaning and intention behind the traits shared, and eventually condense the essential traits for successful first time leadership into our 30 leadership principles. 

You can find out and access these 30 principles here: http://www.firsttimeleadership.com/. Just look for the ‘secrets’. 

Bring about greater awareness for your first time leaders.

Bring about greater awareness for your first time leaders.
Bring about greater awareness for your first time leaders 

Organisations can use these 30 leadership principles as a guide to zoom in on the top few traits that they want to see in all of their first time leaders. Having these traits means that now the organisation has have a direction to focus their leadership development efforts on. It also provides the possibility of a training structure that is flexible to the specific needs of each organisation. Most importantly, it is now possible to achieve greater speed in bringing their first time leaders to success, and with greater consistency in knowing that these leaders are what the organisation needs and wants. 

For the individual, knowing what are the traits to be seen as a first time leader in an organisation will signal that unless one speaks and behaves with the right intention that aligns with those traits, the possibility of being seen as a leader is low. Knowing what are the traits gives greater clarity, and for some like myself, it provides an awakening and soul-searching of sorts. Is my personality suited for the sort of first time leader required in this organisation?  

For the manager, having a list of specified first time leadership traits does not limit or restrict word and actions of the individual employee. It is still up to the individual manager to interpret what is said and done, and determine that it is aligned to the specified traits. Having the traits specified actually gives more guidance and allows each manager to focus and more exact in their determination. I know this because there are organisations who are already practicing this approach to great positive effect. 

You got this! 

You got this!
You got this! 

If you reflect on the 30 leadership principles, as long as you are a functional human being with a healthy mind and an open heart, you already have the best leadership traits in you. The challenge is in asking yourself if you naturally use some of the traits specified by your organisation, or do you have to work at it. And all of us have to work on our leadership. No one is born a leader. 

For the British bank that I mentioned at the beginning that assessed me against their core values, it turned out that to be seen as a potential first time leader, one had to be relationship focused. Who you know, and who knows you was, and still is, pretty important. Unfortunately, I was not at the right mental and emotional place to be prepared to be that sort of an employee. I am now, but that is another story. 

At least if the traits were made known, I would have had the opportunity to make a choice. Ultimately, the best leadership traits for you as an individual is one that allows you to be authentic to who you are as a person, at work or outside of it. The best leadership trait for an organisation are the ones that reinforce its core values while successfully conducting its business activities. 

Daniel Lee
May 31, 2021 | 786 views
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