All Articles Leadership Management What strengths are essential for today's most highly effective leaders?

What strengths are essential for today’s most highly effective leaders?

The key skills for leaders, as derived from more than 1 million surveys.

3 min read




Lead Change is a leadership media destination with a unique editorial focus on driving change within organizations, teams, and individuals. Lead Change, a division of Weaving Influence, publishes twice monthly with SmartBrief. Today’s post is by Robert J. Anderson and William A. Adams

More than 40 years ago, James MacGregor Burns wrote something quite provocative. According to Burns, “Leadership is one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth.”

While that particular assessment of the study of leadership may have been once true, we are convinced that this is no longer the case. Not by a long shot. In fact, today we understand a lot about leadership. We know what makes great — and not-so-great — leaders tick. We know what they do, and how they do it. And, we also know their impact on the people and organizations they lead.

In a study, sampling our database of more than 150,000 leaders (comprising about 1.5 million surveys) worldwide, we evaluated the written 360-degree feedback that senior leaders provide to other senior leaders. We did so, in part, to identify the top 10 strengths that today’s most highly effective leaders share. Which ones do you exhibit as a leader, and which ones need more work?

  1. Strong people skills. Has a high level of interpersonal capability. Is caring, compassionate, big-hearted, and respectful. Connects well with others and makes them feel valuable.
  2. Visionary. Communicates a compelling vision of the future that fosters alignment. Knows and sets strategic direction and business plans that allow teams/organizations to thrive.
  3. Team builder. Unites, engages and supports the team’s efforts. Gives support to team members and advocates for initiatives.
  4. Personable/approachable. Is friendly, likable and has a good sense of humor. Maintains an open-door policy. Is accessible and available.
  5. Leads by example. Good role model. “Walks the talk.”
  6. Passion and drive. Enthusiastic, driven and strongly committed to the success of the organization and self.
  7. Good listener. Attentive and present when people are presenting their views.
  8. Develops people. Shares experience and provides mentoring, coaching, career planning and development experience to ensure growth and development.
  9. Empowers people. Shares leadership and encourages people to take ownership, find their own solutions, make their own decisions and learn from mistakes. Trusts people’s ability and their willingness to follow directions.
  10. Positive attitude. Optimistic and upbeat with a can-do attitude.

In an ideal world, every leader would have each and every one of these strengths embedded deep within his or her leadership DNA. In the real world, few leaders actually do. Leadership is a spiritual boot camp, and we achieve greatness as leaders as we continually strive to lead better — and to be better human beings.

It’s through this continual striving for improvement that we can and do see the strengths of great leadership truly emerge and blossom—both within ourselves, and in those with whom we work.


Bob Anderson is the founder, chairman and chief creative officer of The Leadership Circle and Full Circle Group. Bill Adams is one of the founders of Full Circle Group and is CEO of Full Circle Group and The Leadership Circle. Together, they wrote the books “Scaling Leadership” and “Mastering Leadership.”


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