What Traits Do People Look For in a Leader?

For you to lead others effectively, they must first agree to follow you. Although every leader develops a unique personal style of leading, people typically look for the following traits in their leaders. Which ones do you need to work on?

  • Honesty and integrity: In simple terms, honesty means telling what you believe to be the truth, while integrity means having agreement between what you say and what you do. Not surprisingly, people want their leader to convey information that he believes to be correct, and they want all actions the leader takes to be justified and supported by the information he has shared with them.

    In other words, people want to know exactly what they're committing to when they make a decision to follow a leader.

  • Tenacity: Tenacity is persistence. After a tenacious leader commits to a particular goal, he demonstrates tremendous determination in working toward that goal until he achieves it; he refuses to let temporary setbacks derail him. It's not that the tenacious leader refuses to learn from his mistakes. In fact, he constantly assesses the results of his actions and uses the experience gained to improve his future attempts to reach his goal.

    Simply put, people want a tenacious leader because they want to know their effort won't go to waste if accomplishing their goal is more difficult or takes longer than expected.

  • High energy: Effective leaders expend considerable amounts of energy to organize and guide people toward accomplishing an established goal. This energy results from a combination of physical health and mental preparedness. When revealed to others, a leader's high energy helps energize them to continue working toward their mutual goal.

  • Enthusiasm: Effective leaders approach all tasks with enthusiasm, as expressed by a positive attitude and an air of excitement. They maintain this enthusiasm by focusing on their successes and the benefits of reaching their ultimate goal. Enthusiasm is highly contagious; a leader's team members absorb his enthusiasm through his body language, tone of voice, and the topics he chooses to discuss.

  • Self-confidence: Effective leaders have a realistic appreciation of their abilities and believe they can accomplish anything they set their minds to. This attitude of self-confidence allows them to devote their full attention to performing their tasks instead of worrying about whether they'll succeed or fail. Self-confident leaders view temporary setbacks as learning experiences rather than reasons to give up.

In addition to looking for the previous five traits in their leaders, people look for many other traits and behaviors, including the following:

  • Willingness to take risks and encourage others to take risks

  • Willingness and ability to listen to others

  • Respect for and belief in others

  • Organization

  • Use of correct grammar in written and oral communications

  • Manner of dress

In other words, in addition to looking for leaders they can believe in and trust, people seek leaders with whom they can personally relate and be comfortable and who appreciate and value their effort and contributions.

When you're trying to establish yourself as the leader in a particular situation, consider the following points:

  • Possessing a particular trait isn't enough; you must help others see that you possess it.

  • No universal set of traits and behaviors can guarantee that you'll be a successful leader in all situations. You have to determine those traits and characteristics that are of greatest importance to the people you'll be leading.

  • The traits people look for in their leaders are based on the people's feelings and preferences, not on what you think their feelings and preferences should be. If you find that the traits that matter most to your team members are ones that you don't care to develop, you may need to reconsider whether you really want to be the leader of that group.

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