A Survey of Leadership Traits

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on 05-20-20

Many of us have spent a little time cleaning out our home offices, ensuring it’s ready for maximum focus while working from home. I’ve technically worked from home for 20 years, but given my travel, it was only a couple days a month most of the time. And while cleaning it out, you find some interesting stuff (and lots of uninteresting stuff that you have no idea why you kept it). Let’s not pretend this is 5S’s, this is 1S at best. 

Here’s something from the past that was worth sharing. I used to run a little exercise on leadership, usually in classes where leadership wasn’t the focus. It was just a “dip your toe” discussion, but I would have breakout teams come up with their 3 top leadership traits. There would be activities that would prompt the discussion, so it wasn’t a completely unbiased sample. Also, the teams had to agree, so there wasn’t a ton of room for outside the box thinking (a leadership trait that in itself, only received 1 vote). I thought it was worth sharing: 


I’ve left the scale off intentionally. There are twenty more traits on the list, but the drop off was significant after these traits. Empowering and systems thinking are two that I would have loved to be higher, but here’s the list. 

So visionary is a clear “winner”. It’s easy to put it on the list – people want to follow someone who is going somewhere with a purpose. You could possibly wrap inspirational into visionary, because often the vision is the source of inspiration. But not always, and there are plenty of “leaders” that I’ve met who have a fantastic vision, but don’t have anyone helping them bring it to life. This means they are far too one-dimensional. And this is why we always asked people to identify 3 traits, and not just 1: leadership that is one-dimensional will fail. 

I’m really pleased to see “coach” so highly rated. Of course, after some time in the classroom with me, I shouldn’t be surprised. I think it’s fundamental as a leader, which is why the 1st leadership move in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean is “leaders must be teachers.” 

I shouldn’t have to say much about integrity. To me, it’s the price of entry. It’s necessary before I’m even willing to talk about leadership with you. 

Courageous is a neat one. Why? Because too often our corporate systems and incentives, as well as our systems and incentives in our school systems, do not encourage courage (yup, did that on purpose). So we value it, but only in our leaders? Or do we value it from people who have the potential to lead? Ask yourself that question to look at your organizational behaviors.  

Wrapping up, before this becomes a book on leadership traits. I’d love to hear your top three. Share in the comments below.