Critical Leadership Traits

What can I say about Leadership Traits? I’ve worked for leaders, been a leader and coached leaders for over 40 years. In that time, I’ve recognized certain leadership traits are common to the majority of great leaders. That’s my subjective observation.

In my coaching practice, I use personality assessment tools to help me, coach, understand my clients, and to help them understand themselves and their teams. I compiled a list of all company leaders/ CEOs with whom I’ve administered a personality assessment in order to objectively determine which leadership traits are most common. The leaders in this survey all run companies ranging from $1 million in revenue to $40 million.

Most Personality Assesment tools measure Dominance, Extraversion, Patience, and Formality. Good tools, like Predictive Index, and Ngenio’s MPO realize that these traits fall on a spectrum. For instance, in the case of formality, which measures things like precision, attention to detail and rules following. Some people are extremely rigid and precise while others are extremely flexible, and others still may just be slightly precise. For instance, in the case of the Predictive Index the spectrum looks like this:

Low -3 -2 -1 Trait +1 +2 +3 High
Agreeable Agreeable Humble Unselfish A Independent Resolute Forceful Assertive
Amenable Accepting Peaceable Dominance Competitive Autonomous Aggressive
Acquiescent Collaborative Caring Self—starting Venturesome Controlling
Compliant Pleasing Attentive Resourceful Innovative Self-reliant
Accommodating Modest Supportive Inventive Directing Confrontational
Obliging Willing Cooperative Determined Challenging Unyielding
Reserved Private Imaginative Quiet B Sociable Simulating Expressive Outgoing
Standoffish Reserved Sincere Extraversion Persuasive Enthusiastic Gregarious
Separate Unpretentious Introspective Talkative Socially poised Enticing
Reticent Ruminant Contemplative Open Compelling Outspoken
Isolated Insightful Candid Encouraging Eloquent Influential
Reclusive Pensive Reflective Eager Animated Convincing
Impatient Zealous High-strung Tense C Relaxed Deliberate Extremely steady Steady
Volatile Hurried Quick Patience Stable Measured Placid
Edgy Intense Hasty Calm Unhurried Habitual
Impulsive Fast-paced Prompt Cool Peaceful Easygoing
Urgent Abrupt Ready Composed Serene Even-tempered
Rushed Rapid Restless Collected Unruffled Mellow
Flexibility Spontaneous Familiar Casual D Conservative Precise Dutiful Conforming
Unstructured Unworried Uninhibited Formality Thorough Careful Inflexible
Extemporaneous Undaunted Easy Respectful Cautious Structured
Instinctive Unconcerned Facile Loyal Exacting Strict
Impulsive Carefree Flexible Diligent Proper Vigilant
Improvising Unfussy Pliable Serious Rigorous Correct

What patterns emerge from evaluating my database. Most of the leaders I work with are highly independent and extremely flexible.  (note, any of the traits that were within one sigma off the midpoint are not included in these numbers so they do not all add up to 100%)

Trait Low Spectrum Low High High Spectrum
Dominance Collaborative 11% 88% Independent
Extraversion Reserved 21% 76% Sociable
Patience Driving 73% 13% Steady
Formality Flexible 87% 5% Precise

The dominant traits are highly independent and extremely flexible.  In terms of dominance, this shows up as self-reliant, independent, venturesome, and innovative among other possible traits.  In terms of Formality, they might show up as good on their feet, unworried, instinctive. In addition, the majority are Extraverts, which doesn’t necessarily mean they are always talking as much as they know how to work with and through people.

Ninety-Four percent of these leaders are defined as risk-takers in terms of the interaction of their High Dominance over Lower Formality. The interaction between traits is as important if not more important than individual leadership traits. People who are High Dominance and Low Formality are risk takers. As I’ve written previously, these results are right in line with a study of 9,000 global executives by Russell Reynolds and Hogan Assesment Systems. According to that study there are two major traits of top CEOs:

  1. The Ability to Embrace Appropriate Risk – These CEOs don’t just play it safe… they take risks. Well calculated risks.
  2. A Bias Toward Acting and Capitalizing on Opportunity – In line with risk-taking these CEOs act! They understand what General Patton meant when he said, “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.”

The research agrees that the best leaders are willing to make decisions with impartial information. These leaders tend to lean towards action over analysis or as George Patton said,

A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.

Do you have the key leadership traits required to be a great leader? When is the last time you had a personality assessment? For me, it is a critical element in my leadership coaching. Are you the best CEO you can be (Hint: if you say yes then you are not)? Are you wired for action? Don’t wait for the perfect time, schedule complimentary, no-obligation one-hour, online coaching session by pressing that little button down there. Do it now and see what it’s like to have an executive leadership coach on your side.