What Traits in Leadership Do You Admire and Despise?

Team summiting a mountain

Recently, our executive team completed an exercise to identify the traits and characteristics that we value in leadership. The goal of this exercise was to articulate attributes that we admire in those whom we report to and those who report to us. During the process, I discovered a few my “triggers” that I have never articulated before. If you have a few minutes, I would highly encourage you to take a few minutes to go through the exercise.

Most leaders possess some of the weaknesses I list as well. Truly great leaders have enough self-awareness to at a minimum understand their weakness. Leaders with greater control can acknowledge and communicate their weakness. The greatest leaders manage around their weaknesses or overcome the traits that hold them back most.

This list is not definitive nor is it in a particular order.

Leadership Traits I admire

  • Courage – To me, the essential characteristic of a leader is courage. Courage is the ability to make the tough call, confront difficult situations, and be bold when necessary. I am most critical of my leadership when I take the easy way, and this requires leaders to defend what’s right, not what’s popular. A healthy dose of brutal honesty from time to time is necessary.

    Courage is not living without fear. Courage is being scared to death and doing the right thing anyway. -Chae Richardson

  • Conviction – “Every great organization is the shadow of the leader.” Having vision alone is insufficient. Leaders must be unwavering in their principles and purpose, and they must be willing to go the extra mile, holding those around them to the same standard, to continuously execute.
  • Enthusiasm – As it relates to conviction, leaders are the heartbeat of their organization. While not every employee needs to “feel” involved, I thrive on a leader who sees the best in the possibility. Business, I’ve always said, is like surfing, and surfing is controlled falling. The leader’s enthusiasm is critical to making art on the waves and falling.
  • Clarity and Consistency of Performance – Hot one day, not another is a difficult management style. I always admired Bob Talbott for his ability to provide clear, consistent feedback to his team. Flying from one priority to another leaves employees unsatisfied and frustrated in their work.
  • Trust – Steve Covey said, “Trust is the glue of life. It’s an essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” Leaders that cloud trust create unrest among the organization. Leaders earn trust by being honorable, consistent, and fair.
  • Direct Communication – As it relates to trust, Covey also said that if someone is willing to talk to you behind someone else’s back, rest assured that they are talking about you behind your back. Leaders have the courage to be decisive and direct in their communication.
  • Recognize Strengths & Weaknesses – “An unexamined life is not worth living,” said Socrates. An unreflective leader is a leader not worth serving. We all have weaknesses. Accentuating strengths and delegating to weakness, is the mark of an effective leader. When a leader is not aware of their weaknesses, they are guilty of at least one of the following:
    1. Not reflecting
    2. Not Listening
    3. Not Caring
    4. Not communicating
    5. Hubris
  • Fun – I’ve never (nor will I ever) work in a business of life and death. We can laugh a little and have a good time–even in the hard times. When work is drudgery and painful, it becomes difficult to go to work–for everyone. Without being silly, I believe having fun, is a key to fostering a rich culture.

Here are five additional attributes that I value:

  • Caring
  • Celebrating wins
  • Intelligence
  • Confidence
  • Team-minded / Inclusiveness

Leadership Weaknesses

While many of these attributes are counterpoints to attributes I value, there are a few important distinctions.

  • Hubris – The most dangerous leadership trait is hubris. As I define it, hubris is the cavalier, egomaniacal decision process of leaders. When they believe they are “too big to fail,” it will come. Hubris is confidence gone awry.
  • Pleasing Others – Many leaders with “high EQ” have an above average need to impress–it is part of their secret to success. To subordinates, pandering for approval often leads to wishy-washiness and inconsistencies among the employees. When different team members have different versions of the truth, some walk away hurt, angry, and confused. Ultimately, the leader is commonly put into unnecessary crisis because of competing objectives. Leaders I know that adhere to principles outside the crisis of the moment can navigate this hassle.I know this weakness well. In my leadership development, I have diligently strived to overcome currying favor from the person in front of me. It takes courage and a higher awareness of self to avoid the conundrum of being popular.
  • Inconsistent expectations – The team relies on the “boss” having the same expectation for all employees and consistent expectations for each member’s performance. Evidence of favoritism, inconsistency in priorities, and changing expectations leaves teams unsure how to do their jobs.Without clear expectations, the team members are left to be reactive and unable to be proactive in their duties. One of my favorite bosses articulated the five priorities on an index card. I didn’t have a 25-item job description of the expectations. Within those five items, I had the ability to be creative and innovate.
  • Cowardice – The single button that has led me to end business relationships and leave organizations is the inability to make the tough call. Few good leaders thrive on confrontation, but it is necessary from time to time. When the occasion arises, rise to the occasion. Cowardice is also giving up too easily. Teams thrive on a leader that will “go into hell” for them.As the saying goes, “stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.”
  • Over-analysis – There’s a reason that “C-students rule the world.” Either they are comfortable passing other’s work off as their own. 🙂 Or, C-students know their limits and are willing to listen to others. Let’s hope it is the latter. A-student leaders tend to believe they can make all the decisions without relying on the expertise of their team, which leads to less output of decisions and more analysis.
  • Controlling – Controlling leaders are fraught with fear. They cannot “let go.” So, like the over-analytical leader, they output less and demotivate their employees. Talented employees are driven away by controlling leaders. Those that stay, execute as directed and the organization stalls. Great leaders empower their teams because they trust them.
  • No Vision – Leaders are the vision bearers of an organization. If a leader focuses on results without vision, then they are a managing, not a leading. “Without vision the people will perish.”

Here are a five additional leadership weakness that bother me immensely:

  • Entitlement
  • Egoism
  • Laziness
  • Anxiety
  • Allowing Assumptions to reign supreme

Jeremy’s Crazy Leadership Principles:

Several years ago, I drafted the following “Rules of Leadership” which I share with my team. When an issue arises, I look at the principles and measure my reaction accordingly. Each person on my team has a copy of these rules, and they have a free pass to raise an issue if I am leading inconsistently.

  1. I want everyone on my team to succeed mentally, spiritually, and emotionally in both your personal life and in your professional life.– This may mean that you are prepared for a job greater than I can offer.– This may result in you becoming my boss.

    – This may lead to alternate and unexpected employment.

  2. I intend always to be honest with you (even in hard times), and I expect the same out of you.
  3. If I ever make a decision out of ego, call me on it.
  4. I will not make comment/criticism that doesn’t generate a positive result.
  5. I strive always to be fair, call me on it.
  6. I do not have to have the last word.
  7. I will never condemn you for something that I cannot change.
  8. I expect you to be professional.
  9. I will never ask you to do anything that I would not be willing to do, and I expect you to do most anything that I would do.
  10. Respect, I will respect you and expect you to respect me, period.  This isn’t about deserving or earning; it’s about breathing.

Conclusion

What are the traits that you admire in leadership? Do you consistently execute them? Do you know all of them?

As a side note, this exercise took me about a month  to complete, I began by creating the bullet points on the Admire and Despise columns. Then I spent time looking for specific examples of where those traits mattered in my experience. As I began writing a short narrative for each point, I realized that a few could be combined. Eventually, I developed the list you see here.

I would love to hear your feedback if you go through the exercise.


Jeremy Floyd

Jeremy Floyd is the Chief Marketing Officer at Back Porch Vista. Formerly, he was the president of Bluegill Creative, a marketing and communications firm in Knoxville, Tennessee. In addition to managing the digital strategies, Floyd is an adjunct professor for the University of Tennessee Chattanooga MBA program teaching digital strategies and social media. Floyd blogs at jeremyfloyd.com and tweets under the name @jfloyd. Jeremy is licensed to practice law in the State of Tennessee and holds a law degree from the University of Tennessee College of Law and a Bachelor of Arts degree from MTSU in English and Philosophy.

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